Development and validation of a spatially-explicit agent-based model for space utilization by African savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana) based on determinants of movement

Stephanie G. Diaz, Donald L DeAngelis, Michael S. Gaines, Andrew Purdon, Michael A. Mole, Rudi J. van Aarde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are well-studied and inhabit diverse landscapes that are being transformed by both humans and natural forces. Most tools currently in use are limited in their ability to predict how elephants will respond to novel changes in the environment. Individual-, or agent-based modeling (ABM), may extend current methods in addressing and predicting spatial responses to environmental conditions over time. We developed a spatially explicit agent-based model to simulate elephant space use and validated the model with movement data from elephants in Kruger National Park (KNP) and Chobe National Park (CNP). We simulated movement at an hourly scale, as this scale can reflect switches in elephant behavior due to changes in internal states and short-term responses to the local availability and distribution of critical resources, including forage, water, and shade. Known internal drivers of elephant movement, including perceived temperature and the time since an individual last visited a water source, were linked to the external environment through behavior-based movement rules. Simulations were run on model landscapes representing the wet season and the hot, dry season for both parks. The model outputs, including home range size, daily displacement distance, net displacement distance, and maximum distance traveled from a permanent water source, were evaluated through qualitative and quantitative comparisons to actual elephant movement data from both KNP and CNP. The ABM was successful in reproducing the differences in daily displacements between seasons in each park, and in distances traveled from a permanent water source between parks and seasons. Other movement characteristics, including differences in home range sizes and net daily displacements, were partially reproduced. Out of the all the statistical comparisons made between the empirical and simulated movement patterns, the majority were classified as discrepancies of medium or small effect size. We have shown that a resource-driven model with relatively simple decision rules generates trajectories with movement characteristics that are mostly comparable to those calculated from empirical data. Simulating hourly movement (as our model does) may be useful in predicting how finer-scale patterns of space use, such as those created by foraging movements, are influenced by finer spatio-temporal changes in the environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109499
JournalEcological Modelling
StatePublished - May 1 2021


  • Movement behavior
  • Pattern-oriented modeling
  • Savanna elephants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecological Modeling


Dive into the research topics of 'Development and validation of a spatially-explicit agent-based model for space utilization by African savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana) based on determinants of movement'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this