Issue 7.2: Demography Beyond the Population

Issue 7.2 is now online!

Sagebrush steppe in eastern Idaho, USA

© Brittany J. Teller

The February issue of Methods is now online! As you may have seen already, it includes the BES cross-journal Special Feature: “Demography Beyond the Population“. There are also eight other wonderful articles to read.

We have four articles in the Demography Beyond the Symposium Special Feature. You can read an overview of them by two of the Feature’s Guest Editor Sean McMahon and Jessica Metcalf here (Sean and Jessica are also Associate Editors of Methods).

If you’d like to find out more about each of the individual papers before downloading them, we have blog posts about each one. Daniel Falster and Rich Fitzjohn discuss the development of plant and provide some advice on creating simulation models in Key Technologies Used to Build the plant Package (and Maybe Soon Some Other Big Simulation Models in R). There is a look back at the evolution of Integral Projection Models from Mark Rees and Steve Ellner in How Did We Get Here From There? A Brief History of Evolving Integral Projection Models. In Inverse Modelling and IPMs: Estimating Processes from Incomplete Information Edgar González explains how you can estimate process that you can’t observe. And keep an eye out for Brittany Teller’s blog post coming next week!

Don’t wait too long to get the Demography Beyond the Population Special Feature papers though, they’re freely available for a limited time only

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Key Technologies Used to Build the plant Package (and Maybe Soon Some Other Big Simulation Models in R)

Post provided by RICH FITZJOHN and DANIEL FALSTER

Our paper in Methods in Ecology and Evolution describes a new software package, plantplant is an individual-based simulation model that simulates the growth of individual trees, stands of competing plants, or entire metacommunities under a disturbance regime, using common physiological rules and trait-based functional trade-offs to capture differences among species.

Non-Linear Processes and Thousands of Plants

Since the development of gap models in the 1970s (e.g. Botkin 1972), researchers have been using computer simulations to investigate how elements of plant biology interact with competition and disturbance regimes to influence vegetation demography, structure and diversity. Simulating the competitive interactions among many thousands of plants, however, is no easy task.

Despite widespread recognition of the importance of key non-linear processes — such as size-structured competition, disturbance, and trait-based trade-offs — for vegetation dynamics, relatively few researchers have been brave (or daft) enough to try and incorporate such processes into their models. The situation is most extreme in theoretical ecology, where much contemporary theory (e.g. coexistence theory, neutral theory) is still built around completely unstructured populations.

Features of plant

Key processes modelled within the plant package.

Key processes modelled within the plant package.

The plant package attempts to change that by providing an extensible, open source framework for studying trait-, size- and patch-structured dynamics. One thing that makes the plant model significant is the focus on traits. plant is one of several attempts seeking to integrate current understanding about trait based trade-offs into a model of individual plant function (see also Moorcroft et al 2001Sakschewski et al 2015).

A second feature that makes the plant software significant, is it that is perhaps the first example where a computationally intensive model has been packaged up in a way that enables widespread usage, makes the model more usable and doesn’t  sacrifice speed.

In this post we will describe the key technologies used to build the plant software. Continue reading