Using stylized agent-based models for population-environment research: A case study from the Galápagos Islands

Brian W. Miller, Ian Breckheimer, Amy L. McCleary, Liza Guzmán-Ramirez, Susan C. Caplow, Jessica C. Jones-Smith, Stephen J. Walsh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Agent-based models (ABMs) are powerful tools for population-environment research but are subject to trade-offs between model complexity and abstraction. This study strikes a compromise between abstract and highly specified ABMs by designing a spatially explicit, stylized ABM and using it to explore policy scenarios in a setting that is facing substantial conservation and development challenges. Specifically, we present an ABM that reflects key Land Use/Land Cover dynamics and livelihood decisions on Isabela Island in the Galápagos Archipelago of Ecuador. We implement the model using the NetLogo software platform, a free program that requires relatively little programming experience. The landscape is composed of a satellite-derived distribution of a problematic invasive species (common guava) and a stylized representation of the Galápagos National Park, the community of Puerto Villamil, the agricultural zone, and the marine area. The agent module is based on publicly available data and household interviews and represents the primary livelihoods of the population in the Galápagos Islands-tourism, fisheries, and agriculture. We use the model to enact hypothetical agricultural subsidy scenarios aimed at controlling invasive guava and assess the resulting population and land cover dynamics. Findings suggest that spatially explicit, stylized ABMs have considerable utility, particularly during preliminary stages of research, as platforms for (1) sharpening conceptualizations of population-environment systems, (2) testing alternative scenarios, and (3) uncovering critical data gaps.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)401-426
Number of pages26
JournalPopulation and Environment
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Galápagos Islands
  • Invasive species
  • Land use/land cover
  • Livelihoods
  • NetLogo

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)


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