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Building with Nature Guideline > Toolbox > Impact Assessment > Probabilistic analysis of ecological effects - Cause-effect chain modeling

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Probabilistic analysis of ecological effects - Cause-effect chain modeling

Type: Method

Project Phase: Planning and Design, Construction, Operation and Maintenance

Purpose: Assessing the probability of occurrence of adverse effects, to complement deterministic models

Requirements: Ecological knowledge

Relevant Software: Statistical programmes (eg. R)




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 on 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 in a different way, 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.

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How to Use

This tool focuses on the application of probabilistic analysis in cause-effect chain modelling. A general probabilistic approach for ecological risk assessment, originating from ecotoxicology, is also available: Probabilistic effect analysis - The Species Sensitivity Distribution. Essential for the probabilistic modelling of cause-effect chains is state-of-the-art knowledge on these cause-effect chains, together with knowledge on probabilistic computation methods. This section provides more information on the following:

  1. General Approach
  2. Probabilistic modelling
  3. Probabilistic modelling and the precautionary principle

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Practical Applications

In the Netherlands, the probabilistic analysis of cause-effect chains was applied for the first time in ‘A probabilistic analysis of the ecological effects of sand mining for Maasvlakte 2’ (Van Kruchten, Y.J.G. , 2008). This study showed that it is possible to give insight into the probability of occurrence of ecological effects by using a probabilistic analysis.

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