Integrating an individual-based model with approximate Bayesian computation to predict the invasion of a freshwater fish provides insights into dispersal and range expansion dynamics

Victoria Dominguez Almela*, Stephen C.F. Palmer, Phillipa K. Gillingham, Justin M.J. Travis, J. Robert Britton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
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Short-distance dispersal enables introduced alien species to colonise and invade local habitats following their initial introduction, but is often poorly understood for many freshwater taxa. Knowledge gaps in range expansion of alien species can be overcome using predictive approaches such as individual based models (IBMs), especially if predictions can be improved through fitting to empirical data, but this can be challenging for models having multiple parameters. We therefore estimated the parameters of a model implemented in the RangeShifter IBM platform by approximate Bayesian computation (ABC) in order to predict the further invasion of a lowland river (Great Ouse, England) by a small-bodied invasive fish (bitterling Rhodeus sericeus). Prior estimates for parameters were obtained from the literature and expert opinion. Model fitting was conducted using a time-series (1983 to 2018) of sampling data at fixed locations and revealed that for 5 of 11 model parameters, the posterior distributions differed markedly from prior assumptions. In particular, sub-adult maximum emigration probability was substantially higher in the posteriors than priors. Simulations of bitterling range expansion predicted that following detection in 1984, their early expansion involved a relatively high population growth rate that stabilised after 5 years. The pattern of bitterling patch occupancy was sigmoidal, with 20% of the catchment occupied after 20 years, increasing to 80% after 30 years. Predictions were then for 95% occupancy after 69 years. The development of this IBM thus successfully simulated the range expansion dynamics of this small-bodied invasive fish, with ABC improving the simulation precision. This combined methodology also highlighted that sub-adult dispersal was more likely to contribute to the rapid colonisation rate than expert opinion suggested. These results emphasise the importance of time-series data for refining IBM parameters generally and increasing our understanding of dispersal behaviour and range expansion dynamics specifically.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1461-1480
Number of pages20
JournalBiological Invasions
Early online date14 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020

Bibliographical note

The RangeShifter software and manual can be requested from The authors acknowledge the use of the Maxwell high-performance computing cluster funded by the University of Aberdeen. VDA was supported by an iCASE studentship from the Natural Environment Research Council (Grant Number NE/R008817/1) and the Environment Agency. We are grateful for the comments of three anonymous reviewers, which served to substantially improve an earlier version of the paper.


  • Biological invasion
  • Bitterling
  • Leading edge dispersal
  • RangeShifter
  • River catchment
  • Simulation model


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