Ecological Forecasting

Most forecasts for the future state of ecological systems are conducted once and never updated or assessed. As a result, many available ecological forecasts are not based on the most up-to-date data, and the scientific progress of ecological forecasting models is slowed by a lack of feedback on how well the forecasts perform. Iterative near-term ecological forecasting involves repeated daily to annual scale forecasts of an ecological system as new data becomes available and regular assessment of the resulting forecasts. More regular updating and assessment will advance ecological forecasting as a field by accelerating the identification of the best models for individual forecasts and improving our understanding of how to best design forecasting approaches for ecology in general. This research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation through grant 1622425 to S.K.M. Ernest and by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Data-Driven Discovery Initiative through grant GBMF4563 to E.P. White.


We are a group of ecologists at the University of Florida, comprised of Ethan White’s and Morgan Ernest’s lab groups at the University of Florida. We are broadly interested in collaborative approaches to empirical and computation ecology, open science, and open data.

The Portal Project

The Portal project, located in the Chihuahuan desert of southern Arizona, is a long-term experimental monitoring project in desert ecology. Established in 1977 by Jim Brown, we have over 40 years of data on rodents, plants, ants, and weather at the site. Rodent data are collected approximately monthly, an ideal scenario for short-term forecasts of rodent abundance.

Working Meetings

Work on this project was managed in part through active collaboration in weekly working meetings. These meetings consist of three parts. First, a short introductory period (10-15 minutes) where members of the group update each other on the week’s progress, and brainstorm about the most effective use of the current meeting. This brainstorming results in the generation of a list of tasks. The group then divides into sub-groups to work on these tasks. The sub-groups are highly fluid from week to week depending on the most important next steps and where different expertise is needed. Each group works on its task for one hour. Finally, the the full group reassembles and sub-groups update each other on the progress made during the meeting, and makes plans for what to accomplish before the next week’s meeting (15 minutes). Working meetings facilitate constant interdisciplinary communication and the development of shared vocabularies. They make it easy to get access to expertise from other areas of the project and ‘keep the ball rolling’ in cases where progress in one area of a project is blocked by a lack of data, knowledge, or tools from another area.