Traditional approaches to ecosystem modelling have relied on spatially homogeneous approximations to interaction, growth and death. More recently, spatial interaction and dispersal have also been considered. While these leads to certain changes in fine-scale community dynamics, their effect is sometimes fairly minimal, and demographic scenarios in which this difference is important have not been systematically investigated.
We take a simple mean-field model which simulates birth, growth and death processes, and rewrite it with spatially distributed discrete individuals. Each individual's growth and mortality is determined by a competition measure which captures the effects of neighbours in a way which retains the conceptual simplicity of a generic, analytically-solvable model. Although the model is generic, we here parameterise it using data from Caledonian Scots Pine stands. The dynamics of simulated populations, starting from a plantation lattice configuration, mirror those of well-established qualitative descriptions of natural forest stand behaviour; an analogy which assists in understanding the transition from artificial to old-growth structure.
When parameterised for Scots Pine populations, the signature of spatial processes is evident, but their effect on first-order statistics, such as density and biomass, is fairly limited. The sensitivity of this result to variation in each individual rate parameter is investigated; distinct differences between spatial and mean-field models are seen only upon alteration of the interaction strength parameters, and in low density populations. Under the Scots pine parameterisation, dispersal also has an effect on spatial structure, but not density and biomass. Only in more intense competitive scenarios does altering the relative scales of dispersal and interaction lead to a clear signal in first order behaviour. The study acts as an important reminder that, even in scenarios where individual processes are localised in space, simple models are often sufficient to capture many population scale aspects of observed ecological dynamics. (C) 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.