A general approach to incorporating spatial and temporal variation in individual-based models of fish populations with application to Atlantic mackerel

Robin Boyd, Shovonlal Roy, Richard Sibly, Robert Thorpe, Kieran Hyder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Fish population dynamics are affected by multiple ecosystem drivers, such as food-web interactions, exploitation, density-dependence and the wider environment. While tactical management is still dominated by single-species models that do not explicitly account for these drivers, more holistic ecosystem models are used in strategic management. One way forward in this regard is with individual-based models (IBMs), which provide a single framework in which these drivers can be represented explicitly. We present a generic marine fish IBM that incorporates spatial and temporal variation in food availability, temperature and exploitation. Key features of the model are that it (1) includes realistic energy budgets; (2) includes the full life cycle of fish; (3) is spatially-explicit and (4) incorporates satellite remote-sensing data to represent the environmental drivers. The rates at which individuals acquire and use energy depend on local food availability and temperature. Their state variables, including life stage, size and energy reserves, are updated daily, from which population structure and dynamics emerge. To demonstrate the use of the model we calibrate it for mackerel (Scomber scombrus) in the North East Atlantic. Most parameters are taken from the literature, except the background early mortality rate and the strength predator density dependence, which were estimated by fitting the model to data using Approximate Bayesian Computation. The calibrated model successfully matches the available data on mackerel population dynamics and structure. We demonstrate the use of the model for management purposes by simulating the population effects of opening and closing a sector of the North Sea to mackerel fishing. Our model uses basic principles of behavioural and physiological ecology to establish how spatial and temporal variations in ecosystem drivers affect the individuals in the population. Population dynamics and structure are calculated from the collective effects on individuals. Application to a test case shows the method can fit available data well. Individual-based approaches such as this study have potential for use in strategic management because they can account for spatial structuring, food-web interactions, density dependence, and environmental drivers within a single framework.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-17
Number of pages9
JournalEcological Modelling
Publication statusPublished - 24 Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Atlantic mackerel
  • Bioenergetics
  • Energy-budget
  • Individual-based model
  • Spatially-explicit

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