skip to main content


Title: Macrosystems EDDIE Module 8: Using Ecological Forecasts to Guide Decision-Making (Instructor Materials)
Because of increased variability in populations, communities, and ecosystems due to land use and climate change, there is a pressing need to know the future state of ecological systems across space and time. Ecological forecasting is an emerging approach which provides an estimate of the future state of an ecological system with uncertainty, allowing society to preemptively prepare for fluctuations in important ecosystem services. However, forecasts must be effectively designed and communicated to those who need them to make decisions in order to realize their potential for protecting natural resources. In this module, students will explore real ecological forecast visualizations, identify ways to represent uncertainty, make management decisions using forecast visualizations, and learn decision support techniques. Lastly, students customize a forecast visualization for a specific stakeholder's decision needs. The overarching goal of this module is for students to understand how forecasts are connected to decision-making of stakeholders, or the managers, policy-makers, and other members of society who use forecasts to inform decision-making. The A-B-C structure of this module makes it flexible and adaptable to a range of student levels and course structures. This EDI data package contains instructional materials and the files necessary to teach the module. Readers are referred to the Zenodo data package (Woelmer et al. 2022; DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.7074674) for the R Shiny application code needed to run the module locally.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1933016 1926050 1933102
NSF-PAR ID:
10478935
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Environmental Data Initiative
Date Published:
Edition / Version:
4
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. This EDI data package contains instructional materials necessary to teach Macrosystems EDDIE Module 6: Understanding Uncertainty in Ecological Forecasts, a ~3-hour educational module for undergraduates. Ecological forecasting is an emerging approach that provides an estimate of the future state of an ecological system with uncertainty, allowing society to prepare for changes in important ecosystem services. Forecast uncertainty is derived from multiple sources, including model parameters and driver data, among others. Knowing the uncertainty associated with a forecast enables forecast users to evaluate the forecast and make more informed decisions. This module will guide students through an exploration of the sources of uncertainty within an ecological forecast, how uncertainty can be quantified, and steps that can be taken to reduce the uncertainty in a forecast that students develop for a lake ecosystem, using data from the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). Students will visualize data, build a model, generate a forecast with uncertainty, and then compare the contributions of various sources of forecast uncertainty to total forecast uncertainty. The flexible, three-part (A-B-C) structure of this module makes it adaptable to a range of student levels and course structures. There are two versions of the module: an R Shiny application which does not require students to code, and an RMarkdown version which requires students to read and alter R code to complete module activities. The R Shiny application is published to shinyapps.io and is available at the following link: https://macrosystemseddie.shinyapps.io/module6/. GitHub repositories are available for both the R Shiny (https://github.com/MacrosystemsEDDIE/module6) and RMarkdown versions (https://github.com/MacrosystemsEDDIE/module6_R) of the module, and both code repositories have been published with DOIs to Zenodo (R Shiny version at https://zenodo.org/doi/10.5281/zenodo.10380759 and RMarkdown version at https://zenodo.org/doi/10.5281/zenodo.10380339). Readers are referred to the module landing page for additional information (https://serc.carleton.edu/eddie/teaching_materials/modules/module6.html). 
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Communicating and interpreting uncertainty in ecological model predictions is notoriously challenging, motivating the need for new educational tools, which introduce ecology students to core concepts in uncertainty communication. Ecological forecasting, an emerging approach to estimate future states of ecological systems with uncertainty, provides a relevant and engaging framework for introducing uncertainty communication to undergraduate students, as forecasts can be used as decision support tools for addressing real‐world ecological problems and are inherently uncertain. To provide critical training on uncertainty communication and introduce undergraduate students to the use of ecological forecasts for guiding decision‐making, we developed a hands‐on teaching module within the Macrosystems Environmental Data‐Driven Inquiry and Exploration (EDDIE;MacrosystemsEDDIE.org) educational program. Our module used an active learning approach by embedding forecasting activities in an R Shiny application to engage ecology students in introductory data science, ecological modeling, and forecasting concepts without needing advanced computational or programming skills. Pre‐ and post‐module assessment data from more than 250 undergraduate students enrolled in ecology, freshwater ecology, and zoology courses indicate that the module significantly increased students' ability to interpret forecast visualizations with uncertainty, identify different ways to communicate forecast uncertainty for diverse users, and correctly define ecological forecasting terms. Specifically, students were more likely to describe visual, numeric, and probabilistic methods of uncertainty communication following module completion. Students were also able to identify more benefits of ecological forecasting following module completion, with the key benefits of using forecasts for prediction and decision‐making most commonly described. These results show promise for introducing ecological model uncertainty, data visualizations, and forecasting into undergraduate ecology curricula via software‐based learning, which can increase students' ability to engage and understand complex ecological concepts.

     
    more » « less
  3. Ecological forecasting is an emerging approach to estimate the future state of an ecological system with uncertainty, allowing society to better manage ecosystem services. Ecological forecasting is a core mission of the U.S. National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) and several federal agencies, yet, to date, forecasting training has focused on graduate students, representing a gap in undergraduate ecology curricula. In response, we developed a teaching module for the Macrosystems EDDIE (Environmental Data-Driven Inquiry and Exploration; MacrosystemsEDDIE.org) educational program to introduce ecological forecasting to undergraduate students through an interactive online tool built with R Shiny. To date, we have assessed this module, “Introduction to Ecological Forecasting,” at ten universities and two conference workshops with both undergraduate and graduate students (N = 136 total) and found that the module significantly increased undergraduate students’ ability to correctly define ecological forecasting terms and identify steps in the ecological forecasting cycle. Undergraduate and graduate students who completed the module showed increased familiarity with ecological forecasts and forecast uncertainty. These results suggest that integrating ecological forecasting into undergraduate ecology curricula will enhance students’ abilities to engage and understand complex ecological concepts. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Near‐term iterative forecasting is a powerful tool for ecological decision support and has the potential to transform our understanding of ecological predictability. However, to this point, there has been no cross‐ecosystem analysis of near‐term ecological forecasts, making it difficult to synthesize diverse research efforts and prioritize future developments for this emerging field. In this study, we analyzed 178 near‐term (≤10‐yr forecast horizon) ecological forecasting papers to understand the development and current state of near‐term ecological forecasting literature and to compare forecast accuracy across scales and variables. Our results indicated that near‐term ecological forecasting is widespread and growing: forecasts have been produced for sites on all seven continents and the rate of forecast publication is increasing over time. As forecast production has accelerated, some best practices have been proposed and application of these best practices is increasing. In particular, data publication, forecast archiving, and workflow automation have all increased significantly over time. However, adoption of proposed best practices remains low overall: for example, despite the fact that uncertainty is often cited as an essential component of an ecological forecast, only 45% of papers included uncertainty in their forecast outputs. As the use of these proposed best practices increases, near‐term ecological forecasting has the potential to make significant contributions to our understanding of forecastability across scales and variables. In this study, we found that forecastability (defined here as realized forecast accuracy) decreased in predictable patterns over 1–7 d forecast horizons. Variables that were closely related (i.e., chlorophyll and phytoplankton) displayed very similar trends in forecastability, while more distantly related variables (i.e., pollen and evapotranspiration) exhibited significantly different patterns. Increasing use of proposed best practices in ecological forecasting will allow us to examine the forecastability of additional variables and timescales in the future, providing a robust analysis of the fundamental predictability of ecological variables.

     
    more » « less
  5. Summary

    Forecasts of future dangerousness are often used to inform the sentencing decisions of convicted offenders. For individuals who are sentenced to probation or paroled to community supervision, such forecasts affect the conditions under which they are to be supervised. The statistical criterion for these forecasts is commonly called recidivism, which is defined as a charge or conviction for any new offence, no matter how minor. Only rarely do such forecasts make distinctions on the basis of the seriousness of offences. Yet seriousness may be central to public concerns, and judges are increasingly required by law and sentencing guidelines to make assessments of seriousness. At the very least, information about seriousness is essential for allocating scarce resources for community supervision of convicted offenders. The paper focuses only on murderous conduct by individuals on probation or parole. Using data on a population of over 60000 cases from Philadelphia’s Adult Probation and Parole Department, we forecast whether each offender will be charged with a homicide or attempted homicide within 2 years of beginning community supervision. We use a statistical learning approach that makes no assumptions about how predictors are related to the outcome. We also build in the costs of false negative and false positive charges and use half of the data to build the forecasting model, and the other half of the data to evaluate the quality of the forecasts. Forecasts that are based on this approach offer the possibility of concentrating rehabilitation, treatment and surveillance resources on a small subset of convicted offenders who may be in greatest need, and who pose the greatest risk to society.

     
    more » « less