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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Plant Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fpls.2019.01327

Harnessing deep learning in ecology: An example predicting bark beetle outbreaks

 Werner Rammer1* and Rupert Seidl1
  • 1Institut für Waldbau, Department für Wald- und Bodenwissenschaften, Universität für Bodenkultur Wien, Austria

Addressing current global challenges such as biodiversity loss, global change, and increasing demands for ecosystem services requires improved ecological prediction. Recent increases in data availability, process understanding, and computing power are fostering quantitative approaches in ecology. However, flexible methodological frameworks are needed to utilize these developments towards improved ecological prediction. Deep learning is a rapidly evolving branch of machine learning, yet has received only little attention in ecology to date. It refers to the training of deep neural networks (DNNs), i.e. artificial neural networks consisting of many layers and a large number of neurons. We here provide a reproducible example (including code and data) of designing, training, and applying DNNs for ecological prediction. Using bark beetle outbreaks in conifer-dominated forests as an example, we show that DNNs are well able to predict both short-term infestation risk at the local scale and long-term outbreak dynamics at the landscape level. We furthermore highlight that DNNs have better overall performance than more conventional approaches to predicting bark beetle outbreak dynamics. We conclude that DNNs have high potential to form the backbone of a comprehensive disturbance forecasting system. More broadly, we argue for an increased utilization of the predictive power of DNNs for a wide range of ecological problems.

Keywords: Deep neural network, Ecological prediction, machine learning, Computational Ecology, forest disturbance

Received: 31 Jan 2019; Accepted: 24 Sep 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Rammer and Seidl. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Werner Rammer, Institut für Waldbau, Department für Wald- und Bodenwissenschaften, Universität für Bodenkultur Wien, Vienna, Austria, werner.rammer@boku.ac.at