Probabilistic analysis of ecological effects – Cause-effect chain modeling


The quantification of ecological effects in Environmental Impact Assessments is mostly done by deterministic modelling of cause-effect chains. However, these cause-effect chains are subject to a large number of uncertainties. Part of them are inherent to natural dynamics, others are caused by a lack of knowledge of the relevant processes. In a deterministic approach, these uncertainties cannot be taken into account and worst-case assumptions have to be made. The accumulation of worst-case assumptions will yield highly conservative estimates of the ultimate effect with an unknown uncertainty margin. A probabilistic approach treats uncertainties differently, which enables incorporating the most relevant ones in the modelling of the ecological effects. A probabilistic approach leads to insight into the probability of occurrence of the possible effects, which can be of use in discussions about the design of the project or the necessity of mitigating and compensating measures.

Next to insight into the probability of occurrence of possible effects, a probabilistic analysis also leads to insight into the relevance of different uncertainty factors on the expected ecological effect. This indicates which factors further research should focus on, in order to reduce uncertainty in the predictions (if the nature of the uncertainty allows for such a reduction). Moreover, it is valuable information for the development of a monitoring plan in the Construction or Operation and Maintenance phase.

Building with Nature interest

A probabilistic approach gives more insight in the functioning of the ecological system, its internal dynamics and its response to human interventions. It shows, for instance, which factors have a relevant influence on the possibly affected species, with what intensity and what probability of occurrence. This information can be used in the design process, during construction works and for the development of an effective monitoring plan.

Sometimes significant effects (in the sense of the Birds and Habitats Directives) cannot be excluded on the basis of a deterministic approach. In that case, probabilistic analysis may be useful in order to decide whether or not mitigating- or compensating measures should be taken. Deciding on the basis of a deterministic approach, without information on the probability of occurrence of the adverse effects, may lead to the implementation of unnecessary measures. Probabilistic analyses can provide a better foundation to the environmental regulations applicable to hydraulic engineering works.