Complex decisions dramatically affect animal dispersal and space use. Dispersing individuals respond to a combination of fine-scale environmental stimuli and internal attributes. Individual-based modeling offers a valuable approach for the investigation of such interactions because it combines the heterogeneity of animal behaviors with spatial detail. Most individual-based models (IBMs), however, vastly oversimplify animal behavior and such behavioral minimalism diminishes the value of these models. We present program SEARCH (Spatially Explicit Animal Response to Composition of Habitat), a spatially explicit, individual-based, population model of animal dispersal through realistic landscapes. SEARCH uses values in Geographic Information System (GIS) maps to apply rules that animals follow during dispersal, thus allowing virtual animals to respond to fine-scale features of the landscape and maintain a detailed memory of areas sensed during movement. SEARCH also incorporates temporally dynamic landscapes so that the environment to which virtual animals respond can change during the course of a simulation. Animals in SEARCH are behaviorally dynamic and able to respond to stimuli based upon their individual experiences. Therefore, SEARCH is able to model behavioral traits of dispersing animals at fine scales and with many dynamic aspects. Such added complexity allows investigation of unique ecological questions. To illustrate SEARCH's capabilities, we simulated case studies using three mammals. We examined the impact of seasonally variable food resources on the weight distribution of dispersing raccoons (Procyon lotor), the effect of temporally dynamic mortality pressure in combination with various levels of behavioral responsiveness in eastern chipmunks (Tamias striatus), and the impact of behavioral plasticity and home range selection on disperser mortality and weight change in virtual American martens (Martes americana). These simulations highlight the relevance of SEARCH for a variety of applications and illustrate benefits it can provide for conservation planning.


This is the publisher pdf of Pauli BP, McCann NP, Zollner PA, Cummings R, Gilbert JH, et al. (2013) SEARCH: Spatially Explicit Animal Response to Composition of Habitat. PLoS ONE 8(5): e64656 and is available at: 10.1371/journal.pone.0064656.

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