Introducing RangeShifter - a new tool for landscape ecology

Authors and Affiliations: 

Steve Palmer, Greta Bocedi & Justin Travis

Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences
University of Aberdeen




We introduce a novel simulation platform, RangeShifter, that has potentially widespread application in landscape ecology. The software has been developed to provide a means to address questions related to habitat connectivity and species’ range shifting from a population dynamics perspective.  An individual-based modelling approach is taken such that the behaviour of individual organisms can be represented.  As well as including a range of options for modelling local population dynamics (e.g. including sex and stage structure), dispersal is explicitly modelled in its three key stages of emigration, transfer and settlement. This is important, as it means that the distribution of dispersal distances achieved by a species can become an emergent feature of the species’ dispersal rules, the landscape structure and the local population structure. This has important consequences for understanding and estimating the functional connectivity of landscapes.

Here, we highlight some of the potential uses of RangeShifter in landscape ecology. Firstly, we provide an example of how it can be used at a national scale for simulating the range expansion of a species across a complex landscape. This might be an invasive species expanding its range post introduction, a native species shifting its distribution due to climate change or a species recolonising an area following reintroduction.  At this spatial extent, the software has the potential to be used to identify landscape bottlenecks, where a species may struggle to expand owing to the lack of suitable habitat or to the presence and configuration of hostile landscape features. This understanding may inform habitat management aimed at promoting spread of species of conservation concern, as well as identifying regions where it may be easier to contain the spread of invasive species.

Secondly, we illustrate the use of the model at a more local scale (e.g. county) to assess the potential consequences of development (e.g. new road or railway) or of habitat restoration on functional connectivity. We highlight how this model, by incorporating realistic movement rules linked to population dynamics, can offer strong complementarity to the widely used indices of connectivity derived from methods such as least cost path analysis, graph and circuit theory. Importantly, we can test in silico how effective the habitat networks that might be recommended by these widely-used approaches perform in terms of facilitating population persistence or range-shifting across a range of life-history traits.

There is insufficient time in a brief presentation to cover all the functionality already implemented in RangeShifter or to describe future plans for additional features. However, a demonstration of RangeShifter will be available at the poster session and we will be happy to describe the use of the model to anyone interested in finding out more and will be delighted to discuss potential future applications and case studies.