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Ecol Appl. 2008 Jun;18(4):1002-13.

Sensitivity of population viability to spatial and nonspatial parameters using GRIP.

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Centre for Applied Conservation Research, University of British Columbia, Forest Sciences Building, 2424 Main Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada.


Metapopulation dynamics are influenced by spatial parameters including the amount and arrangement of suitable habitat, yet these parameters may be uncertain when deciding how to manage species or their habitats. Sensitivity analyses of population viability analysis (PVA) models can help measure relative parameter influences on predictions, identify research priorities for reducing uncertainty, and evaluate management strategies. Few spatial PVAs, however, include sensitivity analyses of both spatial and nonspatial parameters, perhaps because computationally efficient tools for such analyses are lacking or inaccessible. We developed GRIP, a program to facilitate sensitivity analysis of spatial and nonspatial input parameters for PVAs created in RAMAS Metapop, a widely applied software program. GRIP creates random sets of input files by varying parameters specified in the PVA model including vital rates and their correlations among populations, the number and configuration of populations, dispersal rates, dispersal survival, initial population abundances, carrying capacities, and the probability, intensity, and spatial extent of catastrophes, while drawing on specified parameter distributions. We evaluated GRIP's performance as a tool for sensitivity analysis of spatial PVAs and explored the consequences of varying spatial input parameters for predictions of a published PVA model of the sand lizard (Lacerta agilis). We used GRIP output to generate standardized regression coefficients (SRCs) and nonparametric correlation coefficients as indices of the relative sensitivity of predicted conservation status to input parameters. GRIP performed well; with a single analysis we were able to rank the relative influence of input parameters identified as influential by the PVA's original author, S. A. Berglind, who used three separate forms of sensitivity analysis. Our analysis, however, also underscored the value of exploring the relative influence of spatial parameters on PVA predictions; both SRCs and correlation coefficients indicated that the most influential parameters in the sand lizard model were spatial in nature. We provide annotated code so that GRIP may be modified to reflect particular species biology, customized for more complex spatial PVA models, upgraded to incorporate features added in newer versions of RAMAS Metapop, used as a template to develop similar programs, or used as it is for computationally efficient sensitivity analyses in support of conservation planning.

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