Agent-based modeling in ecological economics


Address for correspondence: Scott Heckbert, Research Scientist, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems.


Interconnected social and environmental systems are the domain of ecological economics, and models can be used to explore feedbacks and adaptations inherent in these systems. Agent-based modeling (ABM) represents autonomous entities, each with dynamic behavior and heterogeneous characteristics. Agents interact with each other and their environment, resulting in emergent outcomes at the macroscale that can be used to quantitatively analyze complex systems. ABM is contributing to research questions in ecological economics in the areas of natural resource management and land-use change, urban systems modeling, market dynamics, changes in consumer attitudes, innovation, and diffusion of technology and management practices, commons dilemmas and self-governance, and psychological aspects to human decision making and behavior change. Frontiers for ABM research in ecological economics involve advancing the empirical calibration and validation of models through mixed methods, including surveys, interviews, participatory modeling, and, notably, experimental economics to test specific decision-making hypotheses. Linking ABM with other modeling techniques at the level of emergent properties will further advance efforts to understand dynamics of social-environmental systems.