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Durham University

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O. Fero, P.A. Stephens, Z. Barta, J.M. McNamara & A.I. Houston (2008). Optimal annual routines: New tools for conservation biology? Ecological Applications 18(6): 1563-1577.

Author(s) from Durham


Many applied problems in ecology and conservation require prediction, and population models are important tools for that purpose. Formerly, the majority of predictive population models were based on matrix models. As the limitations of classical matrix models have become clearer, the use of individual-based models has increased. These models use behavioral rules imposed at the level of the individual to establish the emergent consequences of those rules at the population level. Individual behaviors in such models use an array of different rule types, from empirically derived probabilities to long-term fitness considerations. There has been surprisingly little discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of these different rule types. Here, we consider different strategies for modeling individual behaviors, together with some problems associated with individual-based models. We propose a novel approach based on modeling optimal annual routines. Annual routines allow individual behaviors to be predicted over a whole annual cycle within the context of long-term fitness considerations. Temporal trade-offs between different behaviors are automatically included in annual routine models, overcoming some of the primary limitations of other individual-based models. Furthermore, as well as population predictions, individual behaviors and indices of condition are emergent features of annual routine models. We show that these can be more sensitive to environmental change than population size, offering alternative, repeatable metrics for monitoring population status. Annual routine models provide no panacea for the problems of data limitations in predictive population modeling. However, as a result of their ability to deal with life-history trade-offs, as well as their potential for relatively rapid and accurate validation and parameterization, we suggest that annual routine models have strong potential for predictive population modeling in applied conservation settings.