Models and Metamodels for Disease Risk Assessment in Threatened Wildlife Populations
1Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, Apple Valley, MN, USA; 2Chicago Zoological Society, Brookfield, IL, USA; 3Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University, New York, NY, USA
Once touted as a “flagship industry” in the emerging discipline of conservation biology, population viability analysis (PVA) is a very useful tool for assessing the impacts of human activities on threatened wildlife populations. Data on species biology and ecology, and identifiable threats to population dynamics, are used as input to computer simulation models. Given a set of user-specific rules that collectively describe the species’ life history and which define the model’s overall structure, a PVA can project the future fate of a population under a specific set of biological and environmental conditions. Despite the increasing sophistication and broad use of PVA models in species conservation planning, many conservation biologists remain critical of such models because of their relative simplicity in the face of highly complex endangered species problems that often demand a transdisciplinary solution. For example, the process of disease introduction and transmission is often treated very simplistically in demographic models for PVA. Moreover, the single-species focus is often identified as a major weakness of PVA when consideration of multi-species interactions is vital to effective management.
We are addressing these criticisms by creating a new stochastic simulation called Outbreak that realistically simulates wildlife disease epidemiologic dynamics. More importantly, we have created a new technology that allows multiple discipline-specific models to run concurrently and explicitly exchange data to create a more informative and realistic environment for better conservation decision making. We see this approach, which we call metamodeling, as a revolutionary way to effectively engage multiple disciplines simultaneously in endangered species conservation. We will describe the metamodeling environment, demonstrate its use, and briefly discuss selected case studies of its application to endangered species management.