Classroom Materials

Evolution & Sustainability on the Computer

The themes of evolution and sustainability are associated with several learning difficulties, because they are the result of complex interrelationships between organisms and their environments, and evolutionary processes usually take place over larger dimensions of space and time. These processes are far removed from our everyday experience, in which we experience more short-term and direct interactions, and in which we perceive individuals rather than changing populations.

Computer simulations or dynamic models can help to overcome these learning difficulties - similar to telescopes and microscopes, they allow us to see things that are not visible to the "naked eye". Computer simulations can model processes over larger scales of time and space and are therefore particularly suitable for observing, investigating and understanding ecological relationships, population patterns, and evolutionary processes.

We develop computer simulations around evolution and sustainability with the free modelling software NetLogo.

The presentation on the right gives an introduction to NetLogo and agent-based modelling.

Feel free to contact us with questions or ideas for linking NetLogo and sustainability science in your classroom or school!

Netlogo GUI Intro

We are currently developing digital learning materials and modules around our NetLogo models on the OpenEvo Learning Hub.

Selected models and teaching materials

Two foresters

This model lets us explore the basics of social interactions in a resource use scenario.

Evolution and competition for resources

These models let us explore what happens when agent behaviors have outcomes for their reproductive success. It makes us ask: If the greedy guys always take over, how can sustainable resource use evolve in a population?


More abstract:

Island World

This model introduces population dynamics in a structured world. It lets us explore some conditions under which groups of sustainable resource users can do better than, and eventually outcompete, groups of greedy guys. But it still makes us ask: How can these groups of sustainable guys protect themselves from take-over by cheaters from within?

Evolution of resource use with monitoring and punishment

This model lets us explore how the appearance of certain social behaviors can affect evolutionary population dynamics. If greedy guys are noticed and kept at bay by being punished for their behavior, they are prevented from taking over the population.

In fact, monitoring of behaviors and the existence of graduated sanctioning mechanisms are also important elements of governance in the sustainable use of common pool resources.

Evolution of resource use through behavior imitation

This model is similar to the Evolution and competition for resources models above, but it adds cultural evolutionary dynamics through behavior imitation. Several imitation biases are simulated: imitating the majority, the minority, the most successful, the most experienced, or the parents. Depending on the imitation bias, rate of behavioral innovation, and the mobility of agents, one can observe the emergence and spread of norms and traditions of sustainable or unsustainable resource use.