Georgia Tech’s Virtual Ecological Research Assistant (VERA) uses Smithsonian Institution’s Encyclopedia of Life (https//eol.org) to help construct models of ecological systems and answer questions about ecological phenomena. VERA is intended to support both student scientists from middle school to college and citizen scientists from nature observers to project managers.
Using VERA, people without scientific training can run simulations with real-world data to answer questions like, “If the weather is sunnier, and the plants in my ecosystem grow faster, how many more deer can I expect in my area?” The user could then explore how an increase in the deer population might affect the area’s wolf population, for example.
The researchers hope VERA will expand the community of people who can use ecosystem modeling to better understand our world and inform decision making. In addition to bringing ecological simulations within the reach of communities and citizen scientists, VERA can be a useful starting place for ecologists and student scientists because it provides a research workflow that makes it easier to answer complex scientific questions without specialized training.