Predicting the Unpredictable? How Ecological Forecasting Helps Foretell The Future

Ecologist shares his top tips for better understanding, predicting, and conserving the environment.

Photo by NOAA on Unsplash.

By Katherine Gianni

What would it take to forecast ecological processes the same way we forecast the weather? This is the question Dr. Michael Dietze, professor at Boston University and leader of the Ecological Forecasting Laboratory, aims to answer through his teaching and field research. Dr. Dietze is dedicated to better understanding and predicting our environment through ecological forecasting, a process that can help to answer inquiries that play out over decades to centuries. For example, how species may be impacted by climate change, or whether forests will continue to take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Dr. Dietze argues that focusing on near-term forecasts over spans of days, seasons and years will help us better understand, manage and conserve ecosystems, while providing valuable insight on these questions. Recently, he took to Reddit to help people learn more about his work and ask their own queries. From the basics of ecological forecasting, to how science and technology can play a valuable role in this approach, the top takeaways from his discussion offer resources, tips, and helpful information for budding researchers and environmental advocates alike.

1) Ecological forecasting can improve decision-making in agriculture.

Dr. Dietze explains how the process can help to predict future crop growth and their impact on the global food system.

2) Extreme or unusual weather events can affect ecological forecasting capabilities.

From heat waves, unseasonably cold weather, and everything in between, Dr. Dietze shares how these climate events can impact predictive models.

3) Short-term and near-term ecological forecasts cover different timescales.

Dr. Dietze highlights the differences.

4) New projects are already underway to help predict restoration success after a severe weather event.

Rebuilding after unexpected, unseasonal, or extreme weather is complicated, but Dr. Dietze says ongoing developments in ecological forecasting can help.

5) A variety of agencies and organizations are currently using ecological forecasting methods.

Dr. Dietze provides additional insight on who already has programs in place.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash.

6) Eco-forecasting can help people better understand biodiversity on a global scale, and in their own backyards.

Research methods can be used to educate community members on the importance of biodiversity conservation on plant and animal life and connect with it on a personal level.

7) Technology does play a role in forecasting research.

Specific highlights on the use of machine learning.

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash.

8) Investing in “climate friendly” companies can help to enact meaningful change.

While this isn’t the only way to reduce our global carbon footprint, Dr. Dietze says investments that consider environmental impact are a step in the right direction.

9) A number of educational pathways can lead students and aspiring researchers to work in this field.

Looking to pursue a future career in ecology or environmental science? Dr. Dietze shares his recommendations for academic tracks.

10) There are many researchers in the field open to sharing educational opportunities, materials, and tools.

Let the Ecological Forecasting Initiative be your guide.

For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on Twitter at @BUexperts. Follow Dr. Dietze on Twitter at @mcdietze and BU’s College of Arts & Sciences at @BU_CAS. For updates from Dr. Dietze’s Ecological Forecasting Initiative, follow @eco4cast or visit, https://ecoforecast.org/.

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