Network approaches for formalizing conceptual models in ecosystem-based management

Jonathan C P Reum* (Corresponding Author), Christopher R Kelble, Chris J Harvey, Robert P Wildermuth, Neda Trifonova, Sean M Lucey, P Sean McDonald, Howard Townsend

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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Qualitative Network Models (QNMs), Fuzzy Cognitive Maps (FCMs), and Bayesian Belief Networks (BBNs) have been proposed as methods to formalize conceptual models of social–ecological systems and project system responses to management interventions or environmental change. To explore how these different methods might influence conclusions about system dynamics, we assembled conceptual models representing three different coastal systems, adapted them to the network approaches, and evaluated outcomes under scenarios representing increased fishing effort and environmental warming. The sign of projected change was the same across the three network models for 31–60\ ranging from 33 to 92\ average levels of similarity were comparable between network pairs. Agreement measures based on both the sign and strength of change were substantially worse for all model comparisons. These general patterns were similar across systems and scenarios. Different outcomes between models led to different inferences regarding trade-offs under the scenarios. We recommend deployment of all three methods, when feasible, to better characterize structural uncertainty and leverage insights gained under one framework to inform the others. Improvements in precision will require model refinement through data integration and model validation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3674-3686
Number of pages13
JournalICES Journal of Marine Science
Issue number10
Early online date30 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Intermodel comparisons were supported through funding from the
NOAA Integrated Ecosystem Assessment Program. P.S. McDonald’s involvement was funded in part by a grant from Washington Sea Grant, University of Washington, pursuant to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Award number NA14OAR4170078. Funding for RPW was supported by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)/Sea Grant Population and Ecosystem Dynamics Graduate Fellowship via federal award NA14OAR4170077.

We would like to acknowledge and thank the participants of the NOAA Integrated Ecosystem Assessment Program conceptual network modelling workshop at Baton Rouge, LA in July 2018. The discussions at this meeting formed some of the basis for the ideas presented in this manuscript. We also thank J. Moss and two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on earlier manuscript drafts. The findings and conclusions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA. Reference to trade names does not imply endorsement by the National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA. This is NOAA Integrated Ecosystem Assessment Program contribution number 2021_3.


  • Bayesian Belief Network
  • ecosystem-based management
  • food webs
  • Fuzzy Cognitive Map
  • Georges Bank
  • Mid-Barataria Basin
  • Pribilof Islands
  • Qualitative Network Model


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