Challenge 3: Engineering complex ecosystems

Marsupial species under threat of extinctionCredit: C Banks-Leite

Scientific solutions such as genetic modification are being developed to control species, including insect vectors of disease. Successful implementation on a global scale requires prediction of the effects of management on the human population and the wider ecosystem.  Similar challenges apply to tackling crop pests, restoring depleted populations (such as fishery stocks), applying antibiotics to complex bacterial communities, and controlling invasive species – all of these involve managing target populations within a complex ecosystem. Current knowledge has often focused on simplified systems – we need new core biological understanding of interacting systems – and of the limits to predictability in those systems – to take the basic science to a level suitable for prediction.  Specific topics will include quantifying ecological and evolutionary interactions in long-term field studies of plant, animal and microbial communities; devising mechanistic models for those communities and testing predictability by setting up replicate communities; linking local findings to regional networks of experiments and prediction at global scales.