Uncertainty in spatially explicit animal dispersal models

Wolf M. Mooij, Donald L. DeAngelis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Uncertainty in estimates of survival of dispersing animals is a vexing difficulty in conservation biology. The current notion is that this uncertainty decreases the usefulness of spatially explicit population models in particular. We examined this problem by comparing dispersal models of three levels of complexity: (1) an event-based binomial model that considers only the occurrence of mortality or arrival, (2) a temporally explicit exponential model that employs mortality and arrival rates, and (3) a spatially explicit gridwalk model that simulates the movement of animals through an artificial landscape. Each model was fitted to the same set of field data. A first objective of the paper is to illustrate how the maximum-likelihood method can be used in all three cases to estimate the means and confidence limits for the relevant model parameters, given a particular set of data on dispersal survival. Using this framework we show that the structure of the uncertainty for all three models is strikingly similar. In fact, the results of our unified approach imply that spatially explicit dispersal models, which take advantage of information on landscape details, suffer less from uncertainly than do simpler models. Moreover, we show that the proposed strategy of model development safeguards one from error propagation in these more complex models. Finally, our approach shows that all models related to animal dispersal, ranging from simple to complex, can be related in a hierarchical fashion, so that the various approaches to modeling such dispersal can be viewed from a unified perspective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)794-805
Number of pages12
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2003


  • Dispersal models, uncertainty
  • Dispersal mortality
  • Dispersal success
  • Individual-based modeling
  • Landscape details
  • Likelihood, maximum
  • Managing endangered species
  • Model complexity
  • Population models
  • Random grid-walk models

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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