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NIMBioS Investigative Workshop

Predictive Models for ERA

Workshop group photo.

Topic: Predictive systems models for the ecological risk assessment of chemicals

Meeting dates: April 28-30, 2014

Location: NIMBioS at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Valery Forbes, School of Biological Sciences, Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln
Richard Rebarber, Mathematics, Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln

Objectives. A major challenge in assessing the impacts of toxic chemicals on ecological systems is the development of predictive linkages between chemically-caused alterations at molecular and biochemical levels of organization and adverse outcomes on ecological systems. This investigative workshop brought together a multi-disciplinary group of molecular and cell biologists, physiologists, ecologists, mathematicians, computational biologists, and statisticians to explore the challenges and opportunities for developing and implementing models that are specifically designed to provide a mechanistic link between levels of biological organization in a way that can inform ecological risk assessment and ultimately environmental policy and management. The focus was on predictive systems models in which properties at higher levels of organization emerge from the dynamics of processes occurring at lower levels of organization.

Key questions. The investigative workshop addressed the following key questions:

  1. What are the advantages and limitations of different classes of predictive systems models for linking responses to toxic chemicals across different levels of biological organization - from molecular to ecological levels?
  2. What are the most important knowledge gaps that act as barriers to developing an integrated predictive systems modeling framework to assess risks of exposure to toxic chemicals and how can they be filled?
  3. What are the major scientific challenges that need to be addressed in order for the models to be used in practice for ecological risk assessment?

Workshop structure. The workshop opened with a presentation on the main challenges for ecological risk assessment of chemicals and recent progress in the US and Europe to incorporate modeling into the process. The program consisted of two overview presentations, the first reviewing models used to link molecules-to-organisms, and the second reviewing models used to link organisms-to-ecosystems. Each was followed by breakout groups in which participants discuss the advantages, limitations, and challenges for using each model type for linking across different levels of biological organization. The breakout groups were structured so as to maximize within-group diversity of expertise, and each group had an assigned chair and rapporteur. A final overview presentation considered the scientific challenges of integrating models from molecules to ecosystems and, after further breakout discussion, recommendations were developed for future action.

Descriptive Flyer

Predictive Models for ERA WordPress Site

Presentations were available for viewing via live streaming during the workshop. A live chat took place via Twitter with the hashtag #eraWS.
Playlist of archived presentations

photo. Summary Report. Workshop presentations and breakout discussions focused on how the incorporation of more quantitative, mechanistic models could add value to ecological risk assessment and on the need for broad stakeholder dialogue to develop models that can provide an acceptable basis for decision making. The workshop identified a critical gap between models linking molecular responses to organismal responses and models linking individual responses to responses at higher levels of biological organization. One or more working groups, conference sessions, and research proposals are being planned to address the most outstanding issues.

Evaluation report



Erickson RA, Eager EA, Stanton JC, Beston JA, Diffendorfer JE, Thogmartin WE. 2015. Assessing local population vulnerability with branching process models: an application to wind energy development. Ecosphere, 6(12): 1-14. [Online]

NIMBioS Investigative Workshops focus on broad topics or a set of related topics, summarizing/synthesizing the state of the art and identifying future directions. Workshops have up to 35 participants. Organizers and key invited researchers make up half the participants; the remaining participants are filled through open application from the scientific community. Open applicants selected to attend are notified by NIMBioS within two weeks of the application deadline. Investigative Workshops have the potential for leading to one or more future Working Groups. Individuals with a strong interest in the topic, including post-docs and graduate students, are encouraged to apply. If needed, NIMBioS can provide support (travel, meals, lodging) for Workshop attendees, whether from a non-profit or for-profit organization.

A goal of NIMBioS is to enhance the cadre of researchers capable of interdisciplinary efforts across mathematics and biology. As part of this goal, NIMBioS is committed to promoting diversity in all its activities. Diversity is considered in all its aspects, social and scientific, including gender, ethnicity, scientific field, career stage, geography and type of home institution. Questions regarding diversity issues should be directed to Dr. Ernest Brothers, the NIMBioS Associate Director for Diversity Enhancement ( You can read more about our Diversity Plan on our NIMBioS Policies web page. The NIMBioS building is fully handicapped accessible.