, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 229–236 | Cite as

Next-Generation Individual-Based Models Integrate Biodiversity and Ecosystems: Yes We Can, and Yes We Must

  • Volker GrimmEmail author
  • Daniel Ayllón
  • Steven F. Railsback
20th Anniversary Paper


Ecosystem and community ecology have evolved along different pathways, with little overlap. However, to meet societal demands for predicting changes in ecosystem services, the functional and structural view dominating these two branches of ecology, respectively, must be integrated. Biodiversity–ecosystem function research has addressed this integration for two decades, but full integration that makes predictions relevant to practical problems is still lacking. We argue that full integration requires going, in both branches, deeper by taking into account individual organisms and the evolutionary and physico-chemical principles that drive their behavior. Individual-based models are a major tool for this integration. They have matured by using individual-level mechanism to replace the demographic thinking which dominates classical theoretical ecology. Existing individual-based ecosystem models already have proven useful both for theory and application. Still, next-generation individual-based models will increasingly use standardized and re-usable submodels to represent behaviors and mechanisms such as growth, uptake of nutrients, foraging, and home range behavior. The strategy of pattern-oriented modeling then helps make such ecosystem models structurally realistic by developing theory for individual behaviors just detailed enough to reproduce and explain patterns observed at the system level. Next-generation ecosystem scientists should include the individual-based approach in their toolkit and focus on addressing real systems because theory development and solving applied problems go hand-in-hand in individual-based ecology.


biodiversity research emergence first principles individual-based ecology individual-based modeling pattern-oriented modeling predictions structural realism theory development 



We thank Monica Turner and Steve Carpenter for their invitation to contribute to this special feature of Ecosystems and for their comments on an earlier draft.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Volker Grimm
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Daniel Ayllón
    • 1
  • Steven F. Railsback
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Ecological ModellingHelmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZLeipzigGermany
  2. 2.German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-LeipzigLeipzigGermany
  3. 3.Lang Railsback & AssociatesArcataUSA

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