Atmospheric: Media tip sheet: Ecological forecasting

Ecological forecasts are predictions about the future state of an ecosystem – the level of a service it will provide, say, or the diversity it will host. They usually require big datasets, sophisticated analytical techniques and powerful computers – all of which have been barriers to producing meaningful, useable forecasts. But that is changing, as access to data, methods and computing power improve. These presentations feature research that attempts to forecast ecosystems of the future. All will be presented at the Ecological Society of America’s upcoming virtual annual meeting, August 3-6, 2020.


Ecological Forecasting Talks:

Actionable forecasting for emerging infectious diseases: A case study of the 2015-2017 Zika epidemic in Colombia

When a new infectious disease starts to spread, being able to predict, in real time, where and when outbreaks will occur is critically important. In this talk, Rachel Oidtman presents a case study from the 2015-17 outbreak of Zika in Colombia, in which researchers successfully anticipated infection hotspots using information gleaned from previous dengue outbreaks and human movement derived from cell phone call records.

Forecasts in the Galapagos: Finding analogs in time to project plant productivity and giant tortoise futures

When future conditions will be unlike any  we have experienced in the past, forecasting gets complicated. In this talk, Noah Charney will explain how models struggle to forecast environmental change and giant tortoise reproductive success in the Galapagos Islands, where the future climate will not simply be a warmer version of the current climate.

When climate does not tell the whole story; predicting the presence of a non-native species in an urbanized landscape

The climate is important for determining where species will and will not occur in the future, but in this talk, Benjamin Seliger points out that forecasts of invasive species’ distributions would do better to include other factors. The future distribution of Tree-of-Heaven (a non-native plant in the US), for example, may be better explained by local road density – roads being both an open setting that these trees prefer to grow in, and a means by which humans inadvertently help these trees spread.

Relationships between woody plant volume and climate across an Alaskan network of National Parks

Climate change is rapidly warming high-latitude regions like Alaska, where forests and shrublands have already begun shifting in response to the changing temperatures. But changes in tree and shrub cover are also affected by things like competition with other plants and the local topography, which makes predicting the future state of the Alaskan landscape hard. In this talk, Ann Raiho discusses a model that allows researchers and land managers to predict exactly where trees will invade the tundra by leveraging data that were collected across Alaska’s National Parks over two decades.


Ecological Forecasting Posters:


Predicting cyanobacterial blooms in freshwater lakes: The promise of new partners, tools and technologies

Cyanobacterial blooms in lakes are a growing problem worldwide, impacting not just freshwater ecosystems but also human health and livelihoods. For a given lake, identifying the causes of a bloom and anticipating future ones would be invaluable. In this poster, Kathryn Cottingham and colleagues describe new tools and technologies that make it possible to predict and mitigate future cyanobacterial blooms.

Developing a predictive and dynamic model of moose-vehicle collisions in Maine

Preventing vehicle-wildlife collisions requires knowing where they are most likely to occur, and under what conditions. In this poster, Yue Yu and colleagues describe a model that predicts when and where moose-vehicle collisions are likeliest in Maine, where hundreds of moose are struck on roads every year.

Big data, process understanding, and ecological forecasting

In this big-picture poster, Yiqi Luo discusses big data in ecology – what can be measured, what form it takes and how it can be used for forecasting.

What processes must we understand to forecast the impact of global change on species distribution and abundance?

Many things can shape where an organism lives  – its birth rate, its death rate, its genetic make-up, the presence of other organisms that eat it/compete with it/pollinate it, and so on. In this poster, Peter Adler and colleagues focus on the invasive plant cheatgrass to illustrate a technique of systematically winnowing down the potential factors shaping a species’ future abundance and distribution to find those that matter most.


ESA Policy on Press Credentials

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is offering complimentary registration at the 105th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America for press and institutional public information officers (see credential policy). The meeting will feature live plenaries, panels and Q&A sessions from August 3-6, 2020. Other sessions will be available for viewing on demand (both during and after the meeting) with asynchronous Q&A. To apply for press registration, please contact ESA Public Information Manager Heidi Swanson at [email protected].

Virtual Press Room

Pre-registered press will be offered access to a virtual press room.

Press Room hours:

Monday, August 3 – Thursday, August 6: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm EDT


The Ecological Society of America, founded in 1915, is the worlds largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000-member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin, and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at




Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.