Assessment of uncertainty in functional–structural plant models

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Background and Aims Constructing functional–structural plant models (FSPMs) is a valuable method for examining how physiology and morphology interact in determining plant processes. However, such models always have uncertainty concerned with whether model components have been selected and represented effectively, with the number of model outputs simulated and with the quality of data used in assessment. We provide a procedure for defining uncertainty of an FSPM and how this uncertainty can be reduced. Methods An important characteristic of FSPMs is that typically they calculate many variables. These can be variables that the model is designed to predict and also variables that give indications of how the model functions. Together these variables are used as criteria in a method of multi-criteria assessment. Expected ranges are defined and an evolutionary computation algorithm searches for model parameters that achieve criteria within these ranges. Typically, different combinations of model parameter values provide solutions achieving different combinations of variables within their specified ranges. We show how these solutions define a Pareto Frontier that can inform about the functioning of the model. Key Results The method of multi-criteria assessment is applied to development of BRANCHPRO, an FSPM for foliage reiteration on old-growth branches of Pseudotsuga menziesii. A geometric model utilizing probabilities for bud growth is developed into a causal explanation for the pattern of reiteration found on these branches and how this pattern may contribute to the longevity of this species. Conclusions FSPMs should be assessed by their ability to simulate multiple criteria simultaneously. When different combinations of parameter values achieve different groups of assessment criteria effectively a Pareto Frontier can be calculated and used to define the sources of model uncertainty.

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Annals of Botany

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