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AgentSeal: agent-based model describing movement of marine central-place foragers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding why animals move as they do when searching for resources is a central question in ecology, and a prerequisite for the development of predictive process-based models for conservation and management. Many species are central-place foragers (CPF). While several models for CPFs have been proposed, they often assume well-defined return rules to the focal point (like breeding). For some CPFs, however, the decisions to return to central sites are governed by multiple interactions between environmental and physiological factors.

We present AgentSeal, a behaviour- and physiology-based, spatially explicit, agent-based model. We use harbour seals, a marine CPF, as a case study and focus on individuals outside their breeding and moulting seasons to capture general fine- and large-scale movements and drivers behind CPF. We model movement decisions based on optimal foraging strategy, cognitive and physiological processes in a realistic landscape, coupled with realistic prey distribution and tuned to a range of behavioural and physiological patterns observed at different scales and levels of organisation (pattern-orientated modelling, POM).

The model can reproduce energetic, movement and other behavioural patterns such as net energy balance, at-sea and on land site fidelity, daily activity budgets and trip extents. The model reveals the crucial elements needed to model return-trips of CPFs including movement characteristics that vary as a function of local environmental conditions, cognitive mapping of foraging areas as points of attraction in subsequent foraging trips, and physiological requirements defining switches between resting and foraging.

We discuss potential applications and extensions of the model, including investigations of fundamental questions in foraging ecology: how spatial distribution and aggregation of resources affect movement of marine CPFs; what are the main drivers behind their at-sea site-fidelity to foraging patches? We also discuss applied objectives such as improving our understanding of population-level consequences of anthropogenic disturbances and ultimately evolving AgentSeal into a practical management tool.



Original languageEnglish
Article number109397
JournalEcological Modelling
Early online date22 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2021

    Research areas

  • Optimal foraging, Marine central-place foragers, Process-based modelling, Harbour seals

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