Using a model selection criterion to identify appropriate complexity in aquatic biogeochemical models

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Aquatic biogeochemical models are widely used as tools for understanding aquatic ecosystems and predicting their response to various stimuli (e.g., nutrient loading, toxic substances, climate change). Due to the complexity of these systems, such models are often elaborate and include a large number of estimated parameters. However, correspondingly large data sets are rarely available for calibration purposes, leading to models that may be overfit and possess reduced predictive capabilities. We apply, for the first time, information-theoretic model-selection techniques to a set of spatially explicit (1D) algal dynamics models of varying parameter dimension. We demonstrate that increases in complexity tend to produce a better model fit to calibration data, but beyond a certain degree of complexity the benefits of adding parameters are diminished (the risk of overfitting becomes greater). The particular approach taken here is computationally expensive, but several suggestions are made as to how multimodel methods may practically be extended to more sophisticated models. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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Ecological Modelling