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Probabilistic analysis of ecological effects - Cause-effect chain modeling

Type: Method

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


Requirements: Ecological knowledge

Relevant Software: 


The quantification of ecological effects in Environmental Impact Assessments is mostly done by deterministic modelling of cause-effect chains. However, with 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 worked out 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 giving insight into the probability of occurrence of ecological effects by using a probabilistic analysis is possible. The study focused on the possible impact of the sand extraction activities for Maasvlakte 2, the Netherlands, on protected sea-ducks in the nature reserve Voordelta. The results showed that the probability of occurrence of significant effects (in the sense of the Birds Directive) was very small, which was valuable information in the discussion about the necessity of implementing mitigating or compensating measures.

In 'Knowledge - Cause-effect chain modelling - Sand mining - Sandwich terns' the probabilistic analysis is worked out for the cause-effect chain from dredging to Sandwich Terns. The methodology is applied on a fictitious case, which shows how the probabilistic analysis can be used in case effects on Sandwich Tern populations are expected. 

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