Student information

Msc thesis topic: Agent-based simulation of the forest-water-people nexus

Approximately half of the human population needs to cope with too much, too little and/or low quality water. The complex relationships between positive (utilization) and negative (floods, landslides, droughts, pollution) aspects of water in its interaction with both changing land cover and changing climate are among the most salient challenges for achieving sustainable development in vulnerable tropical regions around the world, especially in the global South. No fewer than 90% of all ‘natural’ hazards in these vulnerable regions are water-related, and the frequency and magnitude of both acute (e.g. flooding) and long-term (e.g. drought) events are expected to increase as a result of ongoing deforestation, large-scale land-use and climate change. Preventing water-related disasters, both acute and long-term, is one of the biggest challenges now and in the future.

Reducing the frequency and magnitude of water-related hazards is related to the effective management of tropical (agro)forests. In short, the degree of forest cover loss affects the availability of ground, surface and atmospheric water. Decisions by land-users and policy makers alike to deforest or reforest will change the position of the landscape on the forest transition curve and has direct consequences for the availability of water in those landscapes, which in turn influences both the ecological vulnerability of agro-ecological landscapes and the social vulnerability of communities dependent on them for their livelihoods.

  • This MSc thesis topic is linked to a large project in which 15 PhD candidates will look explore the Forest-Water-People nexus of different agro-forested landscapes in 7 seven different countries in the world.
  • The MSc thesis will be supported/supervised by 4 chair groups at WU
  • The implementation will be in the freeware software Netlogo.


  • To assess and simulate the most relevant (spatial) interactions in the Forest-Water-People nexus in tropical (agro)forested landscapes
  • To develop an agent-based model for exploring the Forest-Water-People nexus in tropical (agro)forested landscapes
  • To explore the (spatial) impact of actor decisions on Forest-Water dynamics


  • Ellison D .. Van Noordwijk M. ..2017. Trees, forests and water: Cool insights for a hot world. Global Environmental Change, 43, pp.51-61.
  • Creed IF van Noordwijk M (eds.), 2018. Forest and Water on a Changing Planet: Vulnerability, Adaptation and Governance Opportunities. A Global Assessment Report. IUFRO World Series Volume 38. Vienna.
  • Dewi S 2017. Tropical forest-transition landscapes: a portfolio for studying people, tree crops and agro-ecological change in context. Int J Biodiv Sci Ecosyst Serv Man 13(1): 312-329.


  • An interest in interdisciplinary work
  • An interest and preferably experience in agent-based modelling

Theme(s): Modelling & visualisation; Human – space interaction