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UMONS > Faculty of Sciences >Computing Science Departement >Software Engineering Lab >Ecological Studies of Open Source Software Ecosystems (ECOS)

Ecological Studies of Open Source Software Ecosystems (ECOS)


Software systems are among the most complex artefacts ever created by humans. Collaborative development of open source software (OSS) has witnessed an exponential increase in two decades. Collections of OSS projects developed by the same developer community can be considered as software ecosystems bearing many similarities with biological ecosystems. While biological ecosystems have been the subject of study for many decades, research on software ecosystems is more recent. For this reason, this research project aim to determine whether and how selected ecological models and theories from biological ecosystems can be adapted and adopted to understand and better explain how OSS projects (akin to biological species) evolve, and to determine what are the main factors that drive the success or popularity of these projects. Expressed in biological terms, we wish to use knowledge on the evolution of biological ecosystems to provide support aiming to optimize the fitness, resistance and resilience of OSS projects. These insights will be implemented as guidelines in an evolution dashboard that helps to improve upon the daily practices of OSS communities.

Research context

This project belongs to complex systems modeling, one of the research axes of UMONS (COMPLEXYS Research Institute). It combines expertise in two complementary domains: biological ecology and software engineering. This interdisciplinary project extends the research of the Software Engineering Lab, focusing on empirical studies of evolving OSS, emphasising the social interaction. Based on the experience of Numerical Ecology of Aquatic Systems Lab, we will model and compare general properties of biological versus software ecosystems. We will validate these results through empirical statistical studies of evolving OSS projects. This project is supported by research project AUWB-12/17-UMONS-3, an Action de Recherche Concertée financed by the Ministère de la Communauté française - Direction générale de l’Enseignement non obligatoire et de la Recherche scientifique, Belgium.


The novelty of the proposed project is to use theories, control mechanisms and statistical models that have been proven successful in understanding or explaining the evolution of biological ecosystems, and apply them to software ecosystems. The similarities between both types of ecosystems lead us to believe that biological evolutionary theories and general rules that govern biological ecosystems may be applicable to software evolution as well. The differences imply that the adopted theories will necessarily have to be adapted to fit the software context in which they will be applied. In this research project, two main research questions will be targeted:

Both research questions are driven by a need to better understand why and how software projects evolve, how they collaborate together with, or compete with other projects within the same environment. Such an increased understanding can lead to guidelines and tool support to help the software communities in managing their projects better, stay ahead of the competition, produce higher quality products, increase the fitness and survival of their project in a rapidly changing world (which is, after all, something that all biological species are doing everyday since life appeared on earth).