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Information Criteria and Approximate Bayesian Computing for Agent-based Modelling in Ecology: New Tools to Infer on Individual-level Processes


Academic year: 2021

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Information Criteria and Approximate Bayesian

Computing for Agent-based Modelling in Ecology:

New Tools to Infer on Individual-level Processes

Cyril Piou,

CIRAD, UMR CBGP, F-34398 Montpellier, France cyril.piou@cirad.fr

Keywords: individual-based models; multi-model inference; animal behaviour.

Agent- or individual-based models (ABMs) are computer simulation tools to represent complex systems where the unique autonomous individ-uals constituting the system interact, adapt or evolve. In ecology, ABMs have been applied to analyse the influence of individual variability, spa-tial interactions, development, behaviour, learning or genetic variability on group, population or community dynamics [1]. During the last 20 years, the approach of pattern-oriented modelling (POM) has been helping in making the use of ABMs more robust and reliable [2]. Two main elements of POM are a) “inverse modelling” to reduce parameter uncertainty and b) “strong inferences” to test how well alternative model versions changing in certain individual-level processes are at explaining multiple patterns observed at the population and/or community level. The latter has many parallels to model selection procedures in statistical modelling ( “mutlimodel inference” [3]). The inverse modelling borrows also concept and tools from statistics to fit unknown or uncertain parameters to real-world data. With the de-velopment of approximate Bayesian computing (ABC) in ecology [4] some propositions were made to use ABC in ABMs [5]. Bridging the two main elements of POM, an information criterion was proposed [6] that borrows concept of ABC such as Markov Chains Monte Carlo simulations without likelihood functions and multimodel inference in Bayesian context. This cri-terion (POMIC for pattern-oriented modelling information cricri-terion) was applied in the original proposition paper to forest growth simulations to infer on individual tree growth function. Recently, it was applied to locust to infer on individual behaviour at hatching [7]. These kinds of cryptic pro-cesses (tree individual growth or animals’ behaviour during first hours) can typically be analysed following few isolated individuals in natural or experi-mental conditions. However, in the context of inter-individual interactions, experimental designs to infer on how the interactions modify individual responses are hard, if not impossible to elaborate. Using population or


group level data to fit ABMs and infer on the potential individual process with different ABMs version is then a way of overpassing these problems. However, the question of ABMs complexity (essential in statistical model selection procedures) needs to be addressed. The POMIC proposition in-cludes a complexity measure and makes it therefore an interesting tool to infer on cryptic individual-level processes of complex systems.


[1] DeAngelis, D. L. & Mooij, W. M., Individual-based modeling of ecolog-ical and evolutionary processes, Annual Review of Ecology Evolution and Systematics 36 147–168, 2005.

[2] Grimm, V., Revilla, E., Berger, U., Jeltsch, F., Mooij, W. M., Railsback, S. F., Thulke, H.-H., Weiner, J., Wiegand, T. & DeAngelis, D. L., Pattern-oriented modeling of agent-based complex systems: lessons from ecology, Science 310 987–991, 2005.

[3] Burnham, K. P. & Anderson, D. R., Model selection and multimodel inference: A practical information-theoretic approach, Springer Verlag, New York, 2002.

[4] Beaumont, M. A., Approximate Bayesian computation in evolution and ecology, Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 41 379– 406, 2010.

[5] Hartig, F., Calabrese, J. M., Reineking, B., Wiegand, T. & Huth, A., Statistical inference for stochastic simulation models - theory and appli-cation, Ecology Letters 14 816–827, 2011.

[6] Piou, C., Berger, U. & Grimm, V., Proposing an information criterion for individual-based models developed in a pattern-oriented modelling framework, Ecological Modelling 220 1957–1967, 2009.

[7] Piou, C., & Maeno K.O., Inferring on innate locust behavior with indi-vidual based models and an information criteria, International Statisti-cal Ecology Conference 2014 (ISEC 2014), Montpellier, France, 1-4 July 2014.


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