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Towards better modelling and decision support: Documenting model development, testing, and analysis using TRACE


  • Grimm, Volker
  • Augusiak, Jacqueline
  • Focks, Andreas
  • Frank, Béatrice M.
  • Gabsi, Faten
  • Johnston, Alice S.A.
  • Liu, Chun
  • Martin, Benjamin T.
  • Meli, Mattia
  • Radchuk, Viktoriia
  • Thorbek, Pernille
  • Railsback, Steven F.


The potential of ecological models for supporting environmental decision making is increasingly acknowledged. However, it often remains unclear whether a model is realistic and reliable enough. Good practice for developing and testing ecological models has not yet been established. Therefore, TRACE, a general framework for documenting a model's rationale, design, and testing was recently suggested. Originally TRACE was aimed at documenting good modelling practice. However, the word ‘documentation’ does not convey TRACE's urgency. Therefore, we re-define TRACE as a tool for planning, performing, and documenting good modelling practice. TRACE documents should provide convincing evidence that a model was thoughtfully designed, correctly implemented, thoroughly tested, well understood, and appropriately used for its intended purpose. TRACE documents link the science underlying a model to its application, thereby also linking modellers and model users, for example stakeholders, decision makers, and developers of policies. We report on first experiences in producing TRACE documents. We found that the original idea underlying TRACE was valid, but to make its use more coherent and efficient, an update of its structure and more specific guidance for its use are needed. The updated TRACE format follows the recently developed framework of model ‘evaludation’: the entire process of establishing model quality and credibility throughout all stages of model development, analysis, and application. TRACE thus becomes a tool for planning, documenting, and assessing model evaludation, which includes understanding the rationale behind a model and its envisaged use. We introduce the new structure and revised terminology of TRACE and provide examples.

Suggested Citation

  • Grimm, Volker & Augusiak, Jacqueline & Focks, Andreas & Frank, Béatrice M. & Gabsi, Faten & Johnston, Alice S.A. & Liu, Chun & Martin, Benjamin T. & Meli, Mattia & Radchuk, Viktoriia & Thorbek, Pernil, 2014. "Towards better modelling and decision support: Documenting model development, testing, and analysis using TRACE," Ecological Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 280(C), pages 129-139.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecomod:v:280:y:2014:i:c:p:129-139
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2014.01.018

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Augusiak, Jacqueline & Van den Brink, Paul J. & Grimm, Volker, 2014. "Merging validation and evaluation of ecological models to ‘evaludation’: A review of terminology and a practical approach," Ecological Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 280(C), pages 117-128.
    2. Saul I. Gass, 1983. "Feature Article—Decision-Aiding Models: Validation, Assessment, and Related Issues for Policy Analysis," Operations Research, INFORMS, vol. 31(4), pages 603-631, August.
    3. Meli, Mattia & Palmqvist, Annemette & Forbes, Valery E. & Groeneveld, Jürgen & Grimm, Volker, 2014. "Two pairs of eyes are better than one: Combining individual-based and matrix models for ecological risk assessment of chemicals," Ecological Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 280(C), pages 40-52.
    4. Meli, Mattia & Auclerc, Apolline & Palmqvist, Annemette & Forbes, Valery E. & Grimm, Volker, 2013. "Population-level consequences of spatially heterogeneous exposure to heavy metals in soil: An individual-based model of springtails," Ecological Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 250(C), pages 338-351.
    5. Liu, Chun & Sibly, Richard M. & Grimm, Volker & Thorbek, Pernille, 2013. "Linking pesticide exposure and spatial dynamics: An individual-based model of wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) populations in agricultural landscapes," Ecological Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 248(C), pages 92-102.
    6. Focks, Andreas & ter Horst, Mechteld & van den Berg, Erik & Baveco, Hans & van den Brink, Paul J., 2014. "Integrating chemical fate and population-level effect models for pesticides at landscape scale: New options for risk assessment," Ecological Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 280(C), pages 102-116.
    7. Grimm, Volker & Berger, Uta & DeAngelis, Donald L. & Polhill, J. Gary & Giske, Jarl & Railsback, Steven F., 2010. "The ODD protocol: A review and first update," Ecological Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 221(23), pages 2760-2768.
    8. Johnston, A.S.A. & Hodson, M.E. & Thorbek, P. & Alvarez, T. & Sibly, R.M., 2014. "An energy budget agent-based model of earthworm populations and its application to study the effects of pesticides," Ecological Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 280(C), pages 5-17.
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