Detail from an Impression Figure by Margaret Watts Hughes, pigment on glass, date unknown (recolored). Courtesy of Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Art Gallery via

Ecological Persistence and Resilience:

From Emergence of Life to the Anthroposphere

Program OverviewDates & TimesTuition & FeesProgram GoalsVenueDirectorsFacultyAudienceApplication Requirements


Program Overview

Understanding the stability, resilience, and persistence of ecological systems at multiple spatial and temporal scales is an increasingly important area of both fundamental and applied scientific inquiry. This framework applies equally to nascent chemical ecosystems at the very origin of life, patterns of ecological change across geologic time including extinction events, the deep history of humans in ecological systems, and the biosphere under radical anthropogenic changes. It is an exciting time for ecological research given its increasingly broad scope and many new synthetic perspectives and quantitative theories that cut across a huge range of systems from viruses to cities. These approaches and a variety of complex systems methods give us new ways to understand some of the biggest open questions in science: How do we forecast the future of the biosphere coupled to human activity? How do we understand biodiversity and use it to predict ecosystem dynamics, function, and stability? How have humans impacted and been shaped by ecosystems through deep time? How do we understand the grand trajectory of our living planet from its origins to the anthroposphere?

Ph.D. students are invited to spend two weeks among an international cohort of students and faculty integrating theory and methods from a variety of ecologically-relevant perspectives. Participants will learn about the cutting edge of unifying theory, case studies, and quantitative approaches being used to build foundations for addressing the most pressing problems at the frontiers of ecology and adjacent areas of inquiry. They will hear in-person lectures and engage in discussions with leading researchers with expertise in ecology, paleontology, archaeology, biophysics, environmental science, complex systems and other domains to form a truly ‘beyond disciplines’ perspective on ecological systems understood very broadly. The program will also center on small group research projects designed and led by students using methods ranging from pure theory to data analysis to synthesis based on student interest. In addition to acquiring new frameworks, questions, and approaches to use in their own research, students will grow their global scientific networks and experience the research cultures of the Santa Fe Institute and the EU.

The 2024 program is a partnership between the Santa Fe Institute and the ISEM/CNRS.

Complexity-GAINs is also a partnership with the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences and Hamburg University of Technology (Germany), Complexity Science Hub Vienna (Austria), Quantitative Life Sciences, International Center for Theoretical Physics (Italy), and Institute for Advanced Studies, University of Amsterdam (Netherlands). 

Dates & Times

October 17 – October 31, 2024

The institute is a full-time (all-day) commitment. All participants are expected to attend the entire program in person.

Tuition & Fees

There is no tuition for this program.

Invited students eligible for NSF support – US citizens or permanent residents – are reimbursed for their travel, and housing & meals are covered throughout the program, i.e., there is no cost for these students. For all other invited students, housing & meals are covered throughout the program but there is no travel support.

Program Support   This program is made possible, in part, through the support of the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 2106013 (PI David Krakauer), IRES Track II: Complexity advanced studies institute - Germany, Austria, Italy, Netherlands (Complexity-GAINs). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the investigator(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Program Goals
  • Assess current and future research directions in ecological systems
  • Understand the research process by which to integrate theory, modeling and empirical analyses
  • Enhance mathematical and computational modeling capacity
  • Establish international collaborations and connections
  • Enrich the diversity of the complex systems research community

The international school takes place in Sète, FRANCE.
Domaine du Lazaret is a 3-hectare resort on the Mediterranean coast that offers direct access to the beach. Participants will be housed in double rooms, each with their own bathroom. Each participant will be assigned a roommate. A restaurant, library, bar, and sports facilities — to play volley-ball and pétanque — are available on site. The program's meeting room is also on the resort grounds.  Domaine du Lazaret is located on the Corniche and well served by public transport (venue link).

Dunne Jen Dunne is the Vice President for Science at the Santa Fe Institute, where she has been on the faculty since 2007. Her research uses cross-system analysis and computational modeling to identify fundamental patterns and principles of ecological network structure and dynamics at multiple spatial and temporal scales. She uses this framework to explore the coexistence of species and ecological robustness, persistence, and stability, with a current ‘deep time’ focus on archaeoecological and paleobiological systems. Dunne was named a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America in 2017 and the Network Science Society in 2020. 
Kefi Sonia Kéfi, SFI External Professor, is a research director at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and based at the Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution de Montpellier (ISEM), France. She is an ecologist interested in ecosystem complexity and how the architecture of ecological systems drives emergent properties such as stability and resilience. She combines theoretical models and data analysis from various ecosystems to address these questions. She was awarded the Martinus van Marum prize in 2011 and the Bronze Medal of the CNRS in 2017.
Kempes Chris Kempes is a professor at the Santa Fe Institute. Chris's work focuses on developing general perspectives of life that can be applied in contexts ranging from modern ecology, to astrobiology, to human institutions. Mathematical and physical theories lie at the heart of his methodologies to predict how evolution has shaped biological architecture and how this, in turn, forms a foundation for reliable predictions of environmental response and interaction. His work spans the scales of genetic information architecture to the morphology of microbial individuals and communities to the regional variation of plant traits and their feedback with climate and available resources.
Stefani Crabtree, SFI External Professor, is Assistant Professor of Social-Environmental Modeling in the Department of Environment and Society of the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University. Her research applies complex systems science modeling methodologies (such as agent-based modeling and network science) to problems in social science and ecology.

Andy Dobson, is a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University and External Faculty at SFI, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. His research focuses on the role that wildlife diseases play in the ecology and conservation of large wilderness ecosystems.

Zoe Finkel is a Canada research chair in marine microbial macroecology and co-director of the Marine Macroecology and Biogeochemistry Lab at Dalhousie University. Her research is focused on finding and using physiological, ecological and evolutionary rules to understand and anticipate the interactions between marine organisms, especially plankton, on biogeochemistry and climate.

Mary I. O'Connor, SFI External Professor, is a Professor in the Zoology Department and Director of the Biodiversity Research Centre at the University of British Columbia. O'Connor’s research focuses on biodiversity change, ecological and evolutionary effects of temperature, and the role of information in ecology.
Serguei Saavedra, SFI External Professor, is Associate Professor at MIT in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and head of the Systems Ecology Group at MIT. Serguei is a theoretical ecologist and his work has centered on understanding the feasibility of ecological communities under changing environments using formal procedures of complex systems thinking, synthesis, and mathematical modeling.
Marten Scheffer, SFI External Professor, is a professor at Wageningen University, a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, and a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences in the US. Scheffer is interested in unravelling the mechanisms that determine the stability and resilience of complex systems.
Ricard Solé, SFI External Professor, is head of the Complex Systems Lab at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and is also a member of the Council of the European Complex Systems Society. One of his main research interests is understanding the possible presence of universal patterns of organization in complex systems, from prebiotic replicators to evolved artificial objects.
Guest Speaker
Michael E. Hochberg, SFI External Professor, is Distinguished Research Director with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and based at the University of Montpellier, France. He uses mathematical models and experiments to unravel complex ecological interactions with a strong focus on how environments influence diseases, particularly those associated with bacteria and viruses, and cancers.
Keynote Speaker
Michel Loreau, is an emeritus researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (Moulis, France), an associate professor at Peking University (Beijing, China), a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a member of the Academia Europaea and an honorary member of the British Ecological Society. Over the past twenty years, his research has mainly focused on the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, and on the ecological and societal consequences of biodiversity loss. He recently published the book "Nature That Makes Us Human".


Teaching Fellows
Guim Aguadé-Gorgorió is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie postdoctoral fellow at the Institut des Sciences de l'Évolution in Montpellier (ISEM). Guim is a physicist studying complex adaptive systems, with a particular interest in understanding what makes biological systems of many interacting elements, such as cancers and ecosystems, resilient or fragile to external change.
Anshuman Swain is a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and a James S. McDonnell Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow working in the Museum of Comparative Zoology and the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University in Cambridge, USA. His current research interests lie in investigating the fossil record to understand how abiotic and biotic factors shape organismal interactions across spatiotemporal scales and leveraging this knowledge to understand the ecological response to ongoing global change.

The institute welcomes Ph.D. students from the physical, natural, and quantitative social sciences and mathematics. Students are expected to be full contributors to the school and engage actively in discussion and debate. The program is limited to no more than 28 students.


  • Students must be enrolled in an accredited, degree-granting Ph.D. program, by October 1, 2024.
  • Students ideally have completed at least one year of Ph.D. coursework and have defined and be pursuing their thesis research, or have completed a substantial independent research project as part of their degree.
  • Students should not yet be in the final stages of their dissertation, e.g., should not be scheduled to defend.
  • SFI policy requires participants to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination prior to beginning the program.

The Complexity-GAINs team is committed to offering inclusive educational programs in which all participants feel valued and supported in their learning journey. We believe that human diversity in all of its dimensions is essential to meaningful scientific progress. We believe that open discourse and respectful sharing of broad perspectives is essential for understanding our world. We work to ensure our educational programs reflect and encourage this diversity and inclusivity, and we welcome you to join us.

Application Requirements

Applicants need to provide:

  • Biographical information (filled out directly in the application portal)
  • Current academic cv, including list of publications, if any
  • Two letters of recommendation, including at least one from your thesis advisor or a member of your thesis committee.
  • Research statement, describing your thesis research and how the theme of the school intersects with your current work or future research directions you might undertake. (max. 1 page)
  • Personal statement, describing your motivation for participation in the Complexity-GAINs program. The statement should specifically address the international aspect of the program and how this relates to your broader professional/career goals. (max. 1 page)

Complexity-GAINs International School takes place in:

  • 2022 – socio-behavioral systems
  • 2023 – intelligent systems
  • 2024 – ecosystems