From theory to practice in pattern-oriented modelling: identifying and using empirical patterns in predictive models

Cara A. Gallagher, Magda Chudzinska, Angela Larsen-Gray, Christopher J. Pollock, Sarah N. Sells, Patrick J. C. White, Uta Berger

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To robustly predict the effects of disturbance and ecosystem changes on species, it is necessary to produce structurally realistic models with high predictive power and flexibility. To ensure that these models reflect the natural conditions necessary for reliable prediction, models must be informed and tested using relevant empirical observations. Pattern‐oriented modelling (POM) offers a systematic framework for employing empirical patterns throughout the modelling process and has been coupled with complex systems modelling, such as in agent‐based models (ABMs). However, while the production of ABMs has been rising rapidly, the explicit use of POM has not increased. Challenges with identifying patterns and an absence of specific guidelines on how to implement empirical observations may limit the accessibility of POM and lead to the production of models which lack a systematic consideration of reality. This review serves to provide guidance on how to identify and apply patterns following a POM approach in ABMs (POM‐ABMs), specifically addressing: where in the ecological hierarchy can we find patterns; what kinds of patterns are useful; how should simulations and observations be compared; and when in the modelling cycle are patterns used? The guidance and examples provided herein are intended to encourage the application of POM and inspire efficient identification and implementation of patterns for both new and experienced modellers alike. Additionally, by generalising patterns found especially useful for POM‐ABM development, these guidelines provide practical help for the identification of data gaps and guide the collection of observations useful for the development and verification of predictive models. Improving the accessibility and explicitness of POM could facilitate the production of robust and structurally realistic models in the ecological community, contributing to the advancement of predictive ecology at large.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalBiological Reviews
VolumeEarly View
Early online date12 May 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 May 2021


  • Agent-based
  • Individual-based
  • Modelling
  • Pattern-oriented
  • Complex systems
  • Predictions
  • Ecology
  • Theory development
  • Predictive ecology


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