Assessing Ecosystem Modeling

Full Title: Ecosystem modeling efforts in the Gulf of Mexico: current status and future needs to address management and restoration activities

This project conducted a comprehensive review and assessment of ecosystem modeling efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Team: James Simons (Lead Investigator, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi,, Elizabeth A. Babcock (University of Miami), Arnaud Gruss (University of Miami), Skyler Sagarese (University of Miami), and Cameron H. Ainsworth (University of South Florida)

Technical Monitor: Scott Cross (

Federal Program Officer/Point of Contact: Frank Parker (

Project Timeframe: September 2015 to August 2018.

Award Amount: $395,000

Project Importance: Computer models are used to determine stock assessments for recreationally and commercially important fish species in the Gulf of Mexico, and fish diet is an important component of these models. This project linked information from databases on fish distribution and diet to existing computer models of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.

What we did:  The investigators conducted an inventory of existing ecosystem models for the Gulf of Mexico and identified how well these models currently addressed management and restoration issues. The investigators then described how existing models could be improved, what fish diet databases should be added to current models, and what new ecosystem models should be developed for the benefit of ongoing and planned management and restoration programs in the Gulf of Mexico including fisheries management efforts. 

Researchers held a workshop to get input on their recommendations from the management and research communities. This workshop highlighted critical ecosystem-based fisheries management and restoration needs in the Gulf of Mexico, improved the modifications needed on existing ecosystem models, recommended future ecosystem modeling needs, and identified priority ecosystem research questions for the Gulf of Mexico. Finally, investigators tested the capacity of existing models to predict the impacts of habitat and management actions in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Project Outputs and Outcomes: The project resulted in several improvements to Gulf of Mexico models including 

  • Bridges that linked three fish databases (FishBase, SeaLifeBase, and GoMexSI) to the OSMOSE modeling platform
  • Production of better distribution maps for an OSMOSE model of the West Florida Shelf
  • Construction of a more reliable diet matrix for the West Florida Shelf red tide Ecopath ecosystem model

Management Impact:  The creation of bridges between fish databases and existing computer models will ease the future development and the creation of measurable components of Gulf of Mexico ecosystem models. This will allow for their more rigorous use in ecosystem-based fish management and restoration activities.


Other Resources

Aligning ecosystem modeling efforts with ecosystem-based fisheries management and restoration needs in the Gulf of Mexico – Workshop report, August 2016

Models and databases for restoration and management of Gulf of Mexico Fisheries  – One NOAA Seminar Series presentation

The distribution maps produced for the OSMOSE-WFS ecosystem model are available on the GRIIDC repository. DOI: 10.7266/N7R49P60


Gruss, A., Palomares, M.L., Poelen, J.H., Barile, J.R., Aldemita, C.D., Ortiz, S.R., Barrier, N., Shin, Y-J., Simons, J., and Pauly, D.. 2019. Building bridges between global information systems on marine organisms and ecosystem models. Ecological Modelling. 398 (2019) 1–19, 10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2019.01.023


Grüss, A., M.D Drexler, C.H. Ainsworth, E.A. Babcock, J.H. Tarnecki, M.S Love. 2018. Producing distribution maps for a spatially-explicit ecosystem model using large monitoring and environmental databases and a combination of interpolation and extrapolation. Frontiers in Marine Science, 5: 16.


Morzaria-Luna H.N, C.H Ainsworth, J.H Tarnecki, A.Grüss. 2018. Diet composition uncertainty determines impacts on fisheries following an oil spill. Ecosystem Services 33(B): 187-198.


Grüss, A., J.T. Thorson, E.A. Babcock, and J.H. Tarnecki. 2017. Producing distribution maps for informing ecosystem-based fisheries management using a comprehensive survey database and spatio-temporal models. ICES Journal of Marine Science, fsx120.

Grüss, A., K.A. Rose, J. Simons, C.H. Ainsworth, E.A. Babcock, D.D. Chagaris, K. De Mutsert, J. Froeschke, P. Himchak, I.C. Kaplan, H. O’Farrell, and M.J. Zetina Rejon. 2017. Recommendations on the Use of Ecosystem Modeling for Informing Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management and Restoration Outcomes in the Gulf of Mexico. Marine and Coastal Fisheries, 9(1):281-295.

O’Farrell, H., A. Grüss, S.R. Sagarese, E.A. Babcock, and K.A. Rose. 2017. Ecosystem modeling in the Gulf of Mexico: current status and future needs to address ecosystem-based fisheries management and restoration activities. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, 27:587-614.

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