[en] diagnostic ; ecosystem model ; Ligurian Sea ; age
[en] The constituent-oriented age theory (CAT) worked out by Delhez et al. (1999) is a flexible tool that can be applied to diagnose complex models. It is shown here how this can be used to quantify the pace at which an ecosystem model works. At the cost of the introduction of one additional evolution equation for each compartment of the ecosystem model, the mean age of the biological material forming these compartments can be computed. The information obtained in this way complements the information provided by the concentration data; while the latter measures the standing stocks, the former provides an integrated assessment of the interaction rates and matter fluxes. The benefits of the method are demonstrated with a simple Lotka-Volterra system and a one-dimensional vertical model of the nitrogen cycle in the Ligurian Sea. The theory can be used to study the biological compartments individually or the ecosystem as a whole. In particular, the age is a valuable tool to quantify the overall cycling rate of nitrogen in the food web.