University of Aberdeen



Aberdeen Applied and Theoretical Eco-Evolutionary Modelling

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Steve Palmer

Research fellow









The principal focus of my work involves the development of spatially-explicit individual-based models to address theoretical and applied questions concerning the dispersal and demography of animal populations inhabiting fragmented landscapes. Such models can be as simple or as complex as required for a particular context, and many of the constraints implicit in mathematical models may therefore be relaxed.


The Stochastic Movement Simulator (SMS) models the movement of animals between habitat patches across a heterogeneous landscape matrix, and combines features of least cost path (LCP) analysis with stochastic movement modelling. Like LCP, it represents the landscape as a gridded cost surface, but it relaxes the assumptions of omniscience and a planned destination inherent in the LCP approach. Predicted movements depend on the perceptual range and directional persistence of the type of species being represented, and by releasing thousands of virtual individuals from each patch in the landscape, we can estimate relative connectivity between patches, taking into account landscape features such as corridors and barriers, and the characteristics of the animal species. Preliminary results indicate that connectivity predicted by genetic markers is better explained by predictions from SMS than from either Euclidean distance or LCP. Development of SMS was funded by the European Union biodiversa project TenLamas.

sms example

Example of a single SMS path (black) of the cranberry fritillary (Boloria aquilonaris) between two patches of breeding habitat (pink) in the Belgian Ardennes. The landscape is represented at a grain size of 250m, and comprises bog (green), small patches of scrub (grey-blue) and conifer forest (blue).

I am also involved in the dot.rural Digital Conservation project to promote public engagement and interest in the released population of red kites (Milvus milvus) in northern Scotland. I am using a geographical information system to determine the home-ranging and dispersal behaviour of juvenile kites fitted with GPS transmitters at their nest sites in the Black Isle.

Previous ecological research includes:
• Modelling growth and maturation in populations of the haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) in the North Sea
• Modelling seasonal dynamics of the sheep tick (Ixodes ricinus) and dynamics vector-borne pathogens
• Habitat use by red deer (Cervus elaphus) and roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), and the effects of their grazing and browsing on semi-natural vegetation communities
• Habitat use by red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus)