Bayesian state-space modeling of metapopulation dynamics in the Glanville fritillary butterfly

Philip J. Harrison, Ilkka Hanski, Otso Ovaskainen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


The complexity of mathematical models of ecological dynamics varies greatly, and it is often difficult to judge what would be the optimal level of complexity in a particular case. Here we compare the parameter estimates, model fits, and predictive abilities of two models of metapopulation dynamics: a detailed individual-based model (IBM) and a population-based stochastic patch occupancy model (SPOM) derived from the IBM. The two models were fitted to a 17-year time series of data for the Glanville fritillary butterfly (Melitaea cinxia) inhabiting a network of 72 small meadows. The data consisted of biannual counts of larval groups (IBM) and the annual presence or absence of local populations (SPOM). The models were fitted using a Bayesian state-space approach with a hierarchical random effect structure to account for observational, demographic, and environmental stochasticities. The detection probability of larval groups (IBM) and the probability of false zeros of local populations (SPOM) in the observation models were simultaneously estimated from the time-series data and independent control data. Prior distributions for dispersal parameters were obtained from a separate analysis of mark-recapture data. Both models fitted the data about equally, but the results were more precise for the IBM than for the SPOM. The two models yielded similar estimates for a random effect parameter describing habitat quality in each patch, which were correlated with independent empirical measures of habitat quality. The modeling results showed that variation in habitat quality influenced patch occupancy more through the effects on movement behavior at patch edges than on carrying capacity, whereas the latter influenced the mean population size in occupied patches. The IBM and the SPOM explained 63% and 45%, respectively, of the observed variation in the fraction of occupied habitat area among 75 independent patch networks not used in parameter estimation. We conclude that, while carefully constructed, detailed models can have better predictive ability than simple models, this advantage comes with the cost of greatly increased data requirements and computational challenges. Our results illustrate how complex models can be helpful in facilitating the construction of effective simpler models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)581-598
Number of pages18
JournalEcological Monographs
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011


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