Landscape Ecology

, 24:1255 | Cite as

Ontologies for transparent integrated human-natural system modelling

  • J. Gary Polhill
  • Nicholas M. Gotts
Research article


We propose an approach to modular agent-based land use modelling, based on ontologies in their computer science sense: formal representations of conceptualisations. The approach is primarily aimed at addressing the issue of model transparency. Human-natural systems models involve large numbers of submodels, making them difficult to understand for those not involved in their construction. We show that using ontologies to represent the structure and state of a simulation model improves transparency in two ways: First, the information about the structure and state is decoupled from the simulation software and can be independently processed. Second, the logics on which ontologies are based reflect more commonsense understandings of the relationships among concepts than those of computer programming languages.


Ontology OWL Human-natural systems Transparency 



We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Scottish Government Rural and Environmental Research and Analysis Directorate; the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) under the eSocial Science programme, grant reference RES-149-25-1027 (PolicyGrid); and the EU Framework Programme 6 New and Emerging Science and Technology Pathfinder Initiative on Tackling Complexity in Science, project 12186 (CAVES). CAVES is endorsed by the Global Land Project.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Macaulay Land Use Research InstituteCraigiebuckler, AberdeenUK

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