Modeling biological interactions: from individuals to ecosystems


The aim will be to develop, test and use a modelling framework to explore the links between the behaviour of individual organism and the structure and function of ecological populations and communities.


Professor Stephen Simpson, Professor Max Bennett, Professor Ian Caterson, Associate Professor Michael Charleston, Associate Professor Timothy Gill

Research Location

Charles Perkins Centre – the Judith and David Coffey Life Lab

Program Type



Continued production of healthy food depends on the maintenance of ecosystems and associated services. It has long been considered a Holy Grail among ecologists to discover general principles of population interactions, although such principles remain elusive. Ecologists have recently argued that an understanding of ecological interactions must be founded on models that take into account how animals actually behave and work. Developing such models will provide a new quantitative ecology and a paradigm shift in the biological sciences.

Using a modelling framework the project will explore the links between the traits of individual organisms, populations and communities. This will involve integrating recent advances in three disciplines: a) agent-based modelling, whereby interacting individuals following biologically defined local rules generate complex patterns at larger scales; b) state-space geometric models of nutrition that enable salient resources, organismal traits and their interactions to be identified and quantified; and c) models for representing environments across multiple scales, with which agents can interact in silico. Models will be tested and developed in laboratory and field experiments on locusts, social insects, large mammal herbivores and soil organisms.

Additional Information

The Life Lab creates a new kind of graduate and postgraduate training environment at the interface between life, social, economic and physical sciences. Its focus is to address the significant challenges we face from an unsustainable food system that degrades the environmental services it depends on, and creates significant societal health problems. A better understanding of the complexity of the environment-food-health nexus is critical. It is fundamental to building a sustainable society, and one that is more robust to future uncertainties. Our unique approach will be a world-first in shifting research on these growing challenges from treating symptoms to prevention.Life Lab will challenge existing paradigms and university models to create a research training environment in which traditional disciplinary boundaries do not apply. Our ambitious vision is to create an ‘innovation hub' where researchers from disciplines spanning physical, life and social and economic sciences will interface with business, government and agency leaders. It will develop integrated approaches to the challenges that threaten societal wellbeing, and train the next generation of experts with the skills required to find solutions.

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Modelling, ecology, agent based modeling, nutrition, ecosystems, scaling

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 1690

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