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Science Conceptual Models

Ecological modelsSocial models

Conceptual models are one of the most helpful tools we have for planning restoration activities. They make explicit and transparent how we think ecosystems function. A conceptual model is a visual way of representing any ecological system we are dealing with, to show we understand the system’s key parts and their dynamic relationships to each other and, most importantly, they can help identify if, how and when we need to intervene in order to achieve our restoration goals.

Whether implied or explicitly stated, all research has an underlying model of whatever phenomena are being investigated.

They provide a foundation for testing assumptions and monitoring results for adaptive management. They help meet the very significant challenges, given the large spatial and temporal scales involved, of organising and applying good scientific understandings that already exist in the scientific literature to restoration practice.

Ecological conceptual models are broader and more basic than scientific theories; instead they provide the preliminary conceptual and methodological tools for formulating theories and testing hypotheses.

Our criteria for selecting and testing the usefulness of a particular conceptual model from amongst a range of possibilities are based on those proposed by Jarvelin and Wilson (2003):

Simplicity  -   the simpler the better (but not too simple)
Scope -  the broader the scope the wider the applicability
Systematic power -  the models must be able to organise concepts, dynamic relationships between the system’s essential components and data in meaningful systematic ways
Explanatory power - the model needs to be able to explain and predict phenomena
Reliability - the model must be able to validly represent a wide range of possible situations
Accuracy - the concepts involved need to be accurate and explicit
Validity - the model must be able to provide valid representations and findings
Fruitfulness - the model must be helpful for problem solving and generating hypotheses for testing

There can be no single conceptual model that is adequate for every situation and scale. Hence we have used a number of conceptual models that best help explain how we think different aspects of ecosystems and social systems might function and interact.

Jarvelin, K. and Wilson, T.D. (2003) Information Research 9 (1).