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Temporal limits to simulating the future spread pattern of invasive species: Buddleja davidii in Europe and New Zealand

Joel P.W. Pitt, Darren J. Kriticos, Michael B. Dodd
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Journal Article
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The spread of invasive species is a major ecological and economic problem. Dynamic spread modelling is a potentially valuable tool to assist regional and central government authorities to monitor and control invasive species. To date a lack of suitable data has meant that most broad scale dispersal models have not been validated with independent datasets, and so their predictive ability and reliability has remained unscrutinised. A dynamic, stochastic dispersal model of the widely invasive plant Buddleja davidii was calibrated on European spread data and then used to project the temporal progression of B. davidii's distribution in New Zealand, starting from several different historical distributions. To assess the model's performance, we constructed an occupancy map based on the average number of simulation realisations that have a population present. The application of Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC) curves to occupancy maps is introduced, but with specificity substituted by the proportion of available area used in a realisation. A derivative measure, the partial area under these curves when assessed through time (pAUC), is introduced and used to assess overall performance of the spread model. The model was able to attain a high level of model sensitivity, encompassing all of the known locations within the occupancy envelope. However, attempting to simulate the spread of this invasive species beyond a decade had very low model specificity. This is due to several factors, including the exponential process of spread (the further a population spreads the more sites exist from which it can spread stochastically), and the Markovian chain property of the stochastic system whereby differences between realisations compound through time. These features are seen in many reports of spread models, without being explicitly acknowledged. Our measure of pAUC through time allows a model's temporal performance and its specificity to be simultaneously assessed. While the rapid deterioration in model performance limits the utility of this type of modelling for forecasting long-term broad-scale strategic management of biological invasions, it does not necessarily limit its attractiveness for informing smaller scale and shorter term invasion management activities such as surveillance, containment and local eradication.

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