23/05/2013: Moorea Island Digital Ecosystem Avatar, Neil Davies and Dawn Field

Moorea Island Digital Ecosystem Avatar

May 23, 2013, HIT H 42, 17:00, ETH Zurich

Dr. Neil Davies
Executive Director - Gump South Pacific Research Station University of California Berkeley
Prof. Dawn Field
Senior Research Fellow - Oxford e-Research Center University of Oxford

As we enter the Anthropocene, much attention is rightly focused on global change, and yet the scale of most relevance to human society is still the local land/seascape.  While many of the drivers of change are regional or global, the ecosystem is where most impacts are felt and management actions carried out.  The model system approach, so powerful in molecular biology, offers similar opportunities for ecosystem science.  If a system is “an interconnecting network; a complex whole”, islands approximate an idealized ecosystem and represent rich sources of ‘natural experiment’.  Importantly, islands also enable the comparative method where empirical studies are problematic or impossible.  Serious challenges remain, however, for applying the model system approach to islands.  In particular, while replicated experiments can take place across thousands of cells or organisms (including clones), islands cannot be replicated.  One way to solve this problem is to leverage supercomputer platforms and advanced modeling techniques to build virtual ecosystems: replicate island “avatars” that enable experimental treatments in silico.   Significant progress is being made to model complex systems at various other scales of biological organization, including the cell, organs, organism, socio-economy, and even the planet.  We propose to leverage these efforts in a model ecosystem: the South Pacific island of Moorea, French Polynesia.  A volcanic island about the size of San Francisco, 15 km northwest of Tahiti, Moorea has significant scientific capacity through its two international research stations (CNRS-EPHE CRIOBE since 1971 and UC Berkeley Gump Station since 1985).  In terms of its biodiversity, it is perhaps the best-known complex ecosystem in the world (Moorea Biocode Project; Genomic Observatories Network) and represents the major site for European and American long-term ecological research (LTER) on coral reefs.  The goal of the Moorea IDEA is to build on this base and to help move ecosystem modeling towards a quantitative predictive discipline, greatly improving forecasts of biological responses at scales most appropriate to management actions.
Host: Prof. Matthias Troyer