Plant population and community modelling

The objective of plant population and community modelling in the Agroecology group is to understand, and where necessary anticipate, the effects on arable vegetation of technical innovations and global change, and thereby to understand the role of the vegetation in the sustainability of the arable system as a whole.  System-level responses, such as primary production, nutrient retention and biodiversity, emerge over time, often unpredictably, from complex ecological and evolutionary processes. By developing models of plant populations and communities, we are able to assess the response of arable vegetation in a way that can't be addressed by experiment or observation alone.

Our current focus is the influence of the genetic and functional characteristics (life-history traits or their physiological determinants) of plants on system-level properties. A common thread is the definition of populations and communities in terms of the genetic and functional variation of individuals. Using the individual enables intra- and inter-specific variation to be presented on a common scale and both ecological and evolutionary processes to be combined in a single model framework.

Implementation focuses on the use of individual based models (IBMs) having the following general features: individual organisms (in this case plants) are characterised by physiological traits that define, variously, germination, development and growth; the individuals are located in space (they are spatially explicit) and interact by competition for resource, dispersal of seed and cross pollination; the interactions, leading to survival, death or genetic change, result in communities that can be defined by ecological properties; the links between traits and communities are then examined. 

This approach is integrated with other Agroecology projects in trait characterisation of representative crops and wild arable plants and in modelling food webs consisting of plant and invertebrate functional types.  The development and application of plant systems models at SCRI are described in the following projects.  

Contact: Graham Begg

Papers and reports

Begg, G.S., Elliott, M.J., Squire, G.R., Copeland, J. (awaiting publication). Prediction, sampling and management of GM impurities in fields and harvested yields of oilseed rape. Final report of project VS0126. Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, London.

Bown, J.L., Pachepsky, E., Eberst, E., Bausenwein, U., Millard, P., Squire, G.R., Crawford, J.W. 2007. Consequences of intraspecific variation for the structure and function of ecological communities Part 1: Model development and predicted patterns of diversity. Ecological Modelling 207, 264-276

Pachepsky, E., Bown, J.L., Eberst, E., Bausenwein, U., Millard, P., Squire, G.R., Crawford, J.W. 2007. Consequences of intraspecific variation for the structure and function of ecological communities Part 2: Linking diversity and function. Ecological Modelling 207, 277-285

Begg, G.S., Hockaday, S., McNicol, J.W., Askew, M. and Squire, G.R. 2006. Modelling the persistence of volunteer oilseed rape (Brassica napus). Ecological Modelling 198, 195-207.


Plant systems modelling is now a central feature of several projects. In the Sustainable Crop Systems work package, funded by the Scottish Government, models are being developed to define crop-weed combinations that produce high offtake and support essential food webs. In the Sustainable Arable LINK project on farmland biodiversity, models are used to come up with management prescriptions for essential farmland biodiversity. Models are widely used in Defra-funded research on the persistence and spread of genes in the environment.

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