steps: Software for spatially and temporally explicit population simulations - Journal

Date: 22, Jan, 2020
Author(s):   Visintin C., Briscoe N.J., Woolley S.N.C., Lentini, P.E., Tingley, R., Wintle, B.A., Golding, N.
Publisher: Methods in Ecology and Evolution

Species population dynamics are driven by spatial and temporal changes in the environment, anthropogenic activities and conservation management actions. Understanding how populations will change in response to these drivers is fundamental to a wide range of ecological applications, but there are few open-source software options accessible to researchers and managers that allow them to predict these changes in a flexible and transparent way. 2. We introduce an open-source, multi-platform r package, steps, that models spatial changes in species populations as a function of drivers of distribution and abundance, such as climate, disturbance, landscape dynamics and species ecological and physiological requirements. 3. To illustrate the functionality of steps, we model the population dynamics of the greater glider Petauroides volans, an arboreal Australian mammal. We demonstrate how steps can be used to simulate population responses of the glider to forest dynamics and management with the types of data commonly used in ecological analyses. 4. steps expands on the features found in existing software packages, can easily incorporate a range of spatial layers (e.g. habitat suitability, vegetation dynamics and disturbances), facilitates integrated and transparent analyses within a single platform and produces interpretable outputs of changes in species' populations through space and time. Further, steps offers both ready-to-use, built-in functionality, as well as the ability for advanced users to define their own modules for custom analyses. Thus, we anticipate that steps will be of significant value to environment and wildlife managers and researchers from a broad range of disciplines.