Integrated European
Long-Term Ecosystem, critical zone and
socio-ecological Research

Why are Digital Twins of ecological systems different?

25 July 2023

Digital Twins (DTs) started in industry to monitor and understand systems and processes, but they have now also become a hot topic in ecology. In a new paper (De Koning et al. 2023), they describe how DTs can help ecology, as a kind of real-time model that can integrate data and domain knowledge to continuously adapt to the real world.
The study aims to clarify potential misunderstandings, as they are not necessarily artificial intelligence, large interconnected databases, and a synonym for a “big model of everything”. They do not have to be mechanistic (which often cannot be parameterised in ecological systems), but can be based on empirical models. They are driven by public demand and are intended to support the exploration of future management scenarios to help policy makers and practitioners make better decisions in managing biodiversity and ecosystems. The best-known (non-ecological) DTs are probably the precipitation forecasts (“radars”) of many weather services.

The paper is a product of colleagues from the EU project “A Digital Twin prototype to help protect and restore biodiversity” in which several eLTER partners are involved and in which they combine data from GBIFeLTERDiSSCoLifeWatch ERIK and other ecological Research Infrastructures with existing models to be implemented on the fastest European supercomputer LUMI in Finland.

Comparison between ecological research in the status quo (top) and with digital twins (DTs) (bottom). Credits for the graph go to TREE (Trends in Ecology and Evolution).