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Applying agent-based models to predict social-ecological dynamics in mangrove systems

Project Description

Conserving biodiversity and maintaining the sustainable use of limited natural resources is a defining challenge of the 21st century. Increasingly, conservation goals are coming into conflict with goals that focus on food security and sustaining human livelihoods and well-being [1]. It is therefore critical to understand how both social and ecological dynamics jointly affect sustainability [2]. To predict the dynamics of social-ecological systems, models that integrate social and ecological processes are needed.

Mangrove forests are one of the most productive ecosystems on Earth, and they provide a wealth of goods and services including the following: food security, clean water provision, climate regulation, soil quality maintenance, coastal protection and recreational and spiritual space. Mangrove forests therefore have value by sustaining the livelihoods of millions of people, but also have real value in economic terms. However, over the past 50+ years, conflict between mangrove natural resources and human activity has developed, threatening the long-term survival of this globally important ecosystem. In order to succeed, mangrove conservation efforts need to consider both the natural resource and sensitivity towards local human livelihoods, enabling economic development in a sustainable way.

This project will develop and use individual-based (i.e., agent-based) models (IBMs) to simulate the social-ecological dynamics of mangrove systems in northern Vietnam. IBMs model discrete individuals using computer code, and can simulate complex systems in silico [3,4]. Interacting environmental, ecological, and social processes in the mangrove system will be modelled by developing the recently published GMSE R package (Generalised Management Strategy Evaluation) [5].

The primary objective of this project is to develop and simulate new IBMs to predict ecological and social change in the mangrove system of the Xuân Thủy National Park, northern Vietnam, as a consequence of different proposed management decisions. Model development could also allow prediction of the effects of climate change (e.g. global warming) and the value of carbon storage in the mangrove system, or evaluation of the long-term benefit of mangrove shoreline protection versus land use development for aquaculture.

The student will address the following sub-objectives in the course of their research:

1. Develop a spatially-explicit social-ecological IBM that incorporates mangrove ecology and stakeholder behaviour within GMSE.

2. Parameterise their IBM using social and ecological data collected from the mangrove system in Vietnam.

3. Predict how social and ecological processes in the mangrove system will change as a consequence of changing environmental factors and different management policy options.

The student should have a background or strong interest in computer programming (ideally in R, C, or C++). They should also be interested in applying social-ecological models to real-world systems involving conservation and resource management. The student will benefit from supervisor expertise in theory, modelling, conservation biology and environmental sciences. They will also have the opportunity to interact with a wide network of international collaborators and stakeholders (e.g. local conservation organisations, national park rangers, fishers, farmers, tourism operators).

Please see the IAPETUS2 website for further information .

Funding Notes

Serious applicants are advised to make an informal enquiry about the PhD before the final submission deadline of 10 JAN. To apply, please email Dr Duthie (CC Dr Burdett ), with (1) a one page cover letter indicating why you are interested in this project, (2) your CV with contact information for two references, and (3) full transcripts of previous qualifications obtained. For eligible candidates, funding is available to cover tuition fees, stipend and research costs. However, please note that this project is in competition with others for funding, and success will depend on the quality of applications received.


Instructions on how to make a formal application and information on eligibility requirements can be found here: Note that you must make an application both to the IAPETUS2 website and to Stirling University ( before the closing date for your application to be valid.

[1] Redpath, S, et al. 2013. Understanding and managing conservation conflicts. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 28:100-109. [2] Crist, E, et al. 2017. The interaction of human population, food production, and biodiversity protection. Science, 356:260-264. [3] DeAngelis, DL, & Mooij, WM. 2005. Individual-based modeling of ecological and evolutionary processes. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 36: 147-168. [4] McLane, AJ, et al. 2011. The role of agent-based models in wildlife ecology and management. Ecological Modelling, 222:1544-1556. [5] Duthie, AB, et al. (2018). GMSE: an R package for generalised management strategy evaluation. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 9:2396-2401.

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