A family of process-based models to simulate landscape use by multiple taxa

Nuthatch, by Edmund Fellowes / BTO

Author(s): Gardner, E., Robinson, R.A., Julian, A., Boughey, K., Langham, S., Tse-Leon, J., Petrovskii, S., Baker, D.J., Bellamy, C., Buxton, A., Franks, S., Monk, C., Morris, N., Park, K.J., Petrovan, S., Pitt, K., Taylor, R., Turner, R.K., Allain, S.J.R., Bradley, V., Broughton, R.K., Cartwright, M., Clarke, K., Cranfield, J., Fuentes-Montemayor, E., Gandola, R., Gent, T., Hinsley, S.A., Madsen, T., Reading, C., Redhead, J.W., Reveley, S., Wilkinson, J., Williams, C., Woodward, I., Baker, J., Briggs, P., Dyason, S., Langton, S., Mawby, A., Pywell, R.F. & Bullock, J.M.

Published: May 2024  

Journal: Landscape Ecology

Article No.: 102, (2024)

Digital Identifier No. (DOI): 10.1007/s10980-024-01866-4

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The last few decades have seen large-scale changes in the landscapes of the UK, with most land being managed more intensively and increasingly little left for wildlife. There are some positive changes though, with habitat restoration initiatives and a greater focus on ‘landscape conservation’. This recognises that small patches of habitat, such as are found in many nature reserves, are unlikely to be enough – they need to be bigger and better connected. But in today’s crowded landscape how can this be achieved?

One way to determine where habitat restoration might most usefully occur is to use computer models to predict how changing landscapes in particular areas might best benefit different wildlife groups. This collaborative paper involving BTO, led by colleagues at UKCEH, attempted to do just that by developing a computer model that can be adapted to suit different groups, including bees, bats and birds. The family of models is called the ‘4pop’ models, and that for birds is known as the ‘bird4pop’ model. These models work by simulating how individuals move, forage and breed over time, so birth (i.e. number of chicks hatched) and death rates can be estimated. This allows researchers to investigate how populations might change over time under different landscape scenarios.

The bird models were set up based on the expert knowledge of authors, together with information gleaned from the published literature. The models looked specifically at three groups of birds (woodland specialists, woodland generalists and edge-nesting farmland passerines) and four individual species. The researchers then tested exactly how well the models predicted actual bird counts from BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey, based just on the habitat features present in the squares. The models did a reasonable job and, perhaps unsurprisingly, did a slightly better job for the individual species than for the multispecies groups.

There is still work to be done before these models can be used in real-world decision-making situations, but they form a firm foundation, filling a gap by offering a flexible approach that can be adapted to mimic the needs of multiple species. They also allow the integration of different forms of knowledge (data from field studies, expert opinion, citizen science and standardised monitoring, alongside landcover data) to help address the challenge of promoting landscapes that are better for wildlife.



Land-use change is a key driver of biodiversity loss. Models that accurately predict how biodiversity might be affected by land-use changes are urgently needed, to help avoid further negative impacts and inform landscape-scale restoration projects. To be effective, such models must balance model realism with computational tractability and must represent the different habitat and connectivity requirements of multiple species.


We explored the extent to which process-based modelling might fulfil this role, examining feasibility for different taxa and potential for informing real-world decision-making.


The authors thank all the volunteer surveyors who contributed data to the BTO/RSPB/JNCC Breeding Bird Survey and those who contributed data to the Field Survey within the BCT’s National Bat Monitoring Programme, without whom validation of the bird and bat models would not have been possible. They also thank all the volunteer surveyors of Surrey Amphibian and Reptile Group, who kindly contributed their common lizard sightings and enabled validation of the reptile model. They thank the regional ARGs and all the Toad Patrol volunteers, supported by Froglife, who took the time to fill in the toad habitat use questionnaire, so enabling validation of the amphibian model. EG acknowledges funding from a Research Programme Fellowship provided by the Natural Environment Research Council through UK Research and Innovation’s Landscape Decisions Programme (NE/V007831/1).
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