Dynamic modeling of ecological and economic systems

MEES 613/BIOL 764/PUAF698U

3 credits, 1 afternoon per week, Thursday, 12-3 PM

(this is also a core requirement for the Ecological Economics Certificate)


Robert Costanza and Alexey Voinov,
with Robert Gardner, Steve Seagle, Roel Boumans, Marjan van den Belt, and Ferdinando Villa.

This course will familiarize participants with dynamic systems modeling with applications to both ecological and economic systems over a number of spatial and temporal scales. We will use STELLA, an icon-based dynamic modeling software package which is very easy to learn and use, and requires no previous math or modeling experience. STELLA runs in both the Macintosh and Windows operating systems.

The course uses a "problem based learning" format in which participants define their own modeling problem and then solve it over the course of the semester. The course will meet one afternoon a week. The first several sessions will be an introduction to dynamic systems modeling concepts and STELLA, with several worked out examples. Participants will work through example exercises, read and report on models in the current literature, and define, build, calibrate and run their own model, either alone or (preferably) in a small team. The remaining sessions will be devoted to answering questions about the ongoing modeling projects, sharing progress, and constructive feedback. Participants will be expected to produce a "publishable" project by the end of the course. Course grading will be: 25% exercises, 25% class presentations, 50% project.

The course will be offered over IVN, with instructors in College Park, Frostburg, and Solomons, Maryland. There is also a web-based supplement to the course at



See also the following web sites:

This Course:
Web based course supplement:

Tentative schedule

Click on the class date to get more info
Class Date Topics Lecturers Readings
1. Aug. 30 Introduction to Systems Modeling and STELLA
  • Course Logistics
  • Three step modeling process
  • Modeling for consensus building
  • Costanza
    Haefner 1997, Ch. 1-2
    Hannon and Ruth 1994 Ch. 1
    Ford 1999 Ch 1-9;
    Costanza et al. 1993
    Costanza and Ruth 1997
    STELLA manuals
    2. Sept. 6 Types of Models, Examples and Case Studies
  • Model exercise 1 (Build a 1 st. var. model)
  • Fisheries
  • Ecosystem models
  • Economic system models
  • Game of life
  • Costanza Hannon & Ruth 1994 Chs. 2-6
    Fitz et al. 1996
    Maxwell and Costanza 1993
    Cornwell and Costanza 1994
    Chumra et al 1992
    3. Sept. 13 Conceptualization Phase/ Modeling Philosophy
  • Model exercise 2 (Build a 2 st. var model)
  • Report on preliminary Project ideas
  • Costanza Haefner 1997, Ch. 2-3
    Senge 1990
    STELLA Manual
    4. Sept. 20 Model Construction Techniques
  • Model exercise 3 (Fix a model)
  • Voinov Haefner 1997, Ch. 4-5
    Hannon and Ruth 1994
    Voinov and Akhremenkov 1990
    STELLA Manual
    5. Sept. 27 Parameter Estimation, Calibration and Testing
  • Model exercise 4 (Calibrate a model)
  • Voinov Haefner 1997, Ch. 6-10
    Oreskes et al. 1994
    6. Oct. 4 Mediated Modeling van den Belt  
    7. Oct. 11 Empirical vs. process-based models
  • Model exercise 5 (Translate a model)
  • Costanza  
    8. Oct. 18 Landscape Models
    Voinov Costanza et al., 1990
    Rotmans, 1990
    Voinov et al., 1999
    9. Oct. 25 Individual-Based Models
  • Present preliminary project models
  • Seagle
    10. Nov. 1 Compartment Models (CENTURY, GEM)
  • Present preliminary project models
  • Boumans Fitz, et al., 1996
    11. Nov. 8 Aggregation and Scaling
    Spatially Explicit Models
  • Preliminary Project Reports and Feedback
  • Gardner Haefner 1997, Ch. 15, 16
    Costanza and Maxwell 1994
    Gardner et al. 1982
    Rastetter et al. 1992
    Jarvis et al. 1986
    STELLA Manual
    Voinov et al 1999
    Costanza et al. 1990
    12. Nov. 15 Model complexity,
    Questions and Answers Session
      Nov. 22 Thanksgiving no class  
    13. Nov. 29 Final Project Reports
    (presentations @ 30 min each)
    14. Dec.6 Final Project Reports
    (presentations @ 30 min each)
      Dec.19 Last day of exams - Final Projects Due    

    Supplemental Reading List

    Bockstael, N., R. Costanza, I. Strand, W. Boynton, K. Bell, and L. Wainger. 1995. Ecological economic modeling and valuation of ecosystems. Ecological Economics. 14:143-159.

    Capra, F. 1996. The web of life. Resurgence. 178:24-29

    Chmura, G. L., R. Costanza, and E. C. Kosters. 1992. Modelling coastal marsh stability in response to sea level rise: a case study in coastal Louisiana, USA. Ecological Modelling. 64:47-64

    Cornwell, L. and R. Costanza. 1994. An experimental analysis of the effectiveness of an environmental assurance bonding system on player behavior in a simulated firm. Ecological Economics.11:213-226

    Costanza, R. and T. Maxwell. 1994. Resolution and predictability: an approach to the scaling problem. Landscape Ecology, 9:47-57

    Costanza, R., F. H. Sklar, and M. L. White. 1990. Modeling coastal landscape dynamics. BioScience 40:91-107

    Costanza, R., L. Wainger, C. Folke, and K-G Mäler. 1993. Modeling complex ecological economic systems: toward an evolutionary, dynamic understanding of people and nature BioScience 43:545-555.

    Ford, Andrew. 1999. Modeling the environment: an introduction to systems dynamics modeling of environmental systems. Island Press. Washington, DC

    Fitz, H. C., E. B. DeBellevue, R. Costanza, R. Boumans, T. Maxwell, L. Wainger, and F. H. Sklar. 1996 Development of a general ecosystem model (GEM) for a range of scales and ecosystems. Ecological Modeling 88:263-297.

    Gardner, R. H., W. G. Cale and R. V. O'Neill. 1982. Robust analysis of aggregation error. Ecology, 63: 1771-1779.

    Haefner, J. W. 1997. Modeling biological systems: principles and applications. Chapman and Hall, New York.

    Hannon, B. and M. Ruth. 1994. Dynamic modeling. Springer-Verlag, New York

    Maxwell, T. and R. Costanza. 1993. An approach to modeling the dynamics of evolutionary self organization. Ecological Modeling. 69:149-161.

    Meadows, D. H., D. L. Meadows, and J. Randers. 1992. Beyond the limits: confronting global collapse, envisioning a sustainable future.

    Nordhaus, William D 1994 Managing the commons: The economics of climate change. MIT press, Cambridge. 213 pp.

    Oreskes, N., K. Shrader-Frechette, and K. Belitz. 1994. Verification, validation, and confirmation of numerical models in the earth sciences. Science. 263:641-646

    Rotmans, J. 1990. Image: an integrated model to assess the greenhouse effect

    Senge, P. M. 1990. The fifth discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization. Currency-Doubleday, New York.

    STELLA manuals. High Performance Systems, Inc.

    Swartzman, G. L. and S. P. Kaluzny. 1987. Ecological simulation primer. Macmillan, New York.

    Voinov, A.A. and A.A. Akhremenkov, 1990. Simulation modelling system for aquatic bodies. Ecological Modeling, 52: 181-205.

    Voinov. A, R. Costanza, L. Wainger, R. Boumans, F. Villa, T. Maxwell and H. Voinov. 1999. The Patuxent landscape model: Integrated ecological economic modeling of a watershed. Environmental Modelling and Software 14:473-491