Hauenstein, S., J. Fattebert, M. U. Grüebler, B. Naef-Daenzer, G. Pe'er & F. Hartig (2019)

    Calibrating an individual-based movement model to predict functional connectivity for little owls.

    Further information

    Ecol. Appl. 29: e01873



    Dispersal is crucial for population viability and thus a popular target for conservation measures. However, the ability of individuals to move between habitat patches is notoriously difficult to estimate. One solution is to quantify functional connectivity via realistic individual-based movement models. Such simulation models, however, are difficult to build and even more difficult to parameterize. Here, we use the example of natal little owl (Athene noctua) dispersal to develop a new analysis chain for the calibration of individual-based dispersal models using a hybrid of statistical parameter estimation and Approximate Bayesian Computation (ABC). Specifically, we use locations of 126 radio-tracked juveniles to first estimate habitat utilization by generalized additive models (GAMs) and the biased random bridges (BRB) method. We then include the estimated parameters in a spatially explicit individualbased model (IBM) of little owl dispersal and calibrate further movement parameters using ABC. To derive efficient summary statistics, we use a new dimension reduction method basedon random forest (RF) regression. Finally, we use the calibrated IBM to predict the dispersal potential of little owls from local populations in southwestern Germany to suitable habitat patches in northern Switzerland. We show that pre-calibrating habitat preference parameters while inferring movement behavioral parameters via ABC is a computationally efficient solution to obtain a plausible IBM parameterization. We also find that dimension reduction via RF regression outperforms the widely used least squares regression, which we applied as a benchmark approach. Estimated movement parameters for the individuals reveal plausible inter-individual and inter-sexual differences in movement behavior during natal dispersal. In agreement with a sex-biased dispersal distance in little owls, females show longer individual flights and higher directional persistence. Simulations from the fitted model indicate that a (re)colonization of northern Switzerland is generally possible, albeit restricted. We conclude that the presented analysis chain is a sensible work-flow to assess dispersal connectivity across species and ecosystems. It embraces species- and individual-specific behavioral responses to the landscape and allows likelihood-based calibration, despite an irregular sampling design. Our study highlights existing, yet narrow dispersal corridors, which may require enhancements to facilitate a recolonization of little owl habitat patches in northern Switzerland.
    keywords: Approximate Bayesian Computation, Athene noctua choosing optimal summary statistics, IBM parametrization, landscape connectivity, movement ecology