Agent-based modelling of socio-ecological systems: Models, projects and ontologies

Nicholas M. Gotts*, George A.K. van Voorn, J.G. Polhill, Eline de Jong, Bruce Edmonds, Gert Jan Hofstede, Ruth Meyer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


Socio-Ecological Systems (SESs) are the systems in which our everyday lives are embedded, so understanding them is important. The complex properties of such systems make modelling an indispensable tool for their description and analysis. Human actors play a pivotal role in SESs, but their interactions with each other and their environment are often underrepresented in SES modelling. We argue that more attention should be given to social aspects in models of SESs, but this entails additional kinds of complexity. Modelling choices need to be as transparent as possible, and to be based on analysis of the purposes and limitations of modelling. We recommend thinking in terms of modelling projects rather than single models. Such a project may involve multiple models adopting different modelling methods. We argue that agent-based models (ABMs) are an essential tool in an SES modelling project, but their expressivity, which is their major advantage, also produces problems with model transparency and validation. We propose the use of formal ontologies to make the structure and meaning of models as explicit as possible, facilitating model design, implementation, assessment, comparison and extension.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalEcological Complexity
Issue numberB
Early online date1 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • Agent-based model
  • Complexity
  • Ontology
  • Socio-ecological system


Dive into the research topics of 'Agent-based modelling of socio-ecological systems: Models, projects and ontologies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this