The importance of spatial models for estimating the strength of density dependence

James T. Thorson, Hans J. Skaug, Kasper Kristensen, Andrew Olaf Shelton, Eric J. Ward, John H. Harmes, James A. Benante

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


Identifying the existence and magnitude of density dependence is one of the oldest concerns in ecology. Ecologists have aimed to estimate density dependence in population and community data by fitting a simple autoregressive (Gompertz) model for density dependence to time series of abundance for an entire population. However, it is increasingly recognized that spatial heterogeneity in population densities has implications for population and community dynamics. We therefore adapt the Gompertz model to approximate local densities over continuous space instead of population-wide abundance, and to allow productivity to vary spatially. Using simulated data generated from a spatial model, we show that the conventional (nonspatial) Gompertz model will result in biased estimates of density dependence, e.g., identifying oscillatory dynamics when not present. By contrast, the spatial Gompertz model provides accurate and precise estimates of density dependence for a variety of simulation scenarios and data availabilities. These results are corroborated when comparing spatial and nonspatial models for data from 10 years and ~100 sampling stations for three long-lived rockfishes (Sebastes spp.) off the California Coast. In this case, the nonspatial model estimates implausible oscillatory dynamics on an annual time scale, while the spatial model estimates strong autocorrelation and is supported by model selection tools. We conclude by discussing the importance of improved data archiving techniques, so that spatial models can be used to re-examine classic questions regarding the presence and strength of density dependence in wild populations

Read More:
Original languageEnglish
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)1202-1212
Publication statusPublished - 2014


Dive into the research topics of 'The importance of spatial models for estimating the strength of density dependence'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this