Towards better modelling and decision support: Documenting model development, testing, and analysis using TRACE

By Jacqueline Augusiak1, Andreas Focks1, Béatrice M. Frank2, Faten Gabsi3, Alice S.A. Johnston4, Chun Liu4, Benjamin T. Martin5, Mattia Meli6, Viktoriia Radchuk2, Pernille Thorbek7, Steven F Railsback8, Volker Grimm

1. Wageningen University, Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management Group, Wageningen University and Research Centre, P.O. Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands 2. Université Catholique de Louvain, Earth and Life Institute, Croix du Sud 2, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium 3. RWTH Aachen University, Institute for Environmental Research, Worringerweg 1, 52074 Aachen, Germany 4. University of Reading, School of Biological Sciences, Philip Lyle Building, Room 405, Reading RG6 6AS, UK 5. University of California Santa Barbara, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9620, USA 6. Roskilde University, Department of Environmental, Social and Spatial Change, Universitetsvej 1, P.O. Box 260, 4000 Roskilde, Denmark 7. Syngenta, Environmental Safety, Jealott's Hill International Research Centre, Bracknell, Berkshire RG42 6EY, UK 8. Lang Railsback & Associates

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• We introduce TRACE, a framework for documenting model testing and analysis.
• TRACE is based on the recently proposed framework of model “evaludation”.
• We provide a template for TRACE and three example TRACE documents.
• TRACE is designed to make models fit for supporting environmental decision making.


The potential of ecological models for supporting environmental decision making is increasingly acknowledged. However, it often remains unclear whether a model is realistic and reliable enough. Good practice for developing and testing ecological models has not yet been established. Therefore, TRACE, a general framework for documenting a model's rationale, design, and testing was recently suggested. Originally TRACE was aimed at documenting good modelling practice. However, the word ‘documentation’ does not convey TRACE's urgency. Therefore, we re-define TRACE as a tool for planning, performing, and documenting good modelling practice. TRACE documents should provide convincing evidence that a model was thoughtfully designed, correctly implemented, thoroughly tested, well understood, and appropriately used for its intended purpose. TRACE documents link the science underlying a model to its application, thereby also linking modellers and model users, for example stakeholders, decision makers, and developers of policies. We report on first experiences in producing TRACE documents. We found that the original idea underlying TRACE was valid, but to make its use more coherent and efficient, an update of its structure and more specific guidance for its use are needed. The updated TRACE format follows the recently developed framework of model ‘evaludation’: the entire process of establishing model quality and credibility throughout all stages of model development, analysis, and application. TRACE thus becomes a tool for planning, documenting, and assessing model evaludation, which includes understanding the rationale behind a model and its envisaged use. We introduce the new structure and revised terminology of TRACE and provide examples.

Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Grimm V, Augusiak J, Focks A, Frank BM, Gabsi F, Johnston ASA, et al. Towards better modelling and decision support: Documenting model development, testing, and analysis using TRACE. Population Models for Ecological Risk Assessment of Chemicals. 2014 May 24;280(0):129–39. 

  • Jacqueline Augusiak; Andreas Focks; Béatrice M. Frank; Faten Gabsi; Alice S.A. Johnston; Chun Liu; Benjamin T. Martin; Mattia Meli; Viktoriia Radchuk; Pernille Thorbek; Steven F Railsback; Volker Grimm (2015), "Towards better modelling and decision support: Documenting model development, testing, and analysis using TRACE,"

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