Computational Ecology and Software, 2017, 7(3): 109-122
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WORMSPREAD: an individual-based model of invasive earthworm population dynamics

George W. Armstrong1, Ahsan Mahmood1, Andie Nugent2, Sonya Dexter2, Emily Hutto2, Timothy S. McCay2, Ahmet Ay1,2
1Department of Mathematics, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY 13346, USA
2Department of Biology, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY 13346, USA

Received 4 July 2017;Accepted 12 July 2017;Published 1 September 2017

Invasive earthworm species, such as Lumbricus rubellus, can cause changes to forest soils, which may result in reduced forest biodiversity. Individual Based Modeling (IBM) offers a way to predict the spread of invasive species and can provide insight for control. We developed an individual-based, spatially explicit, earthworm population dynamics modeling software package (WORMSPREAD). This software accounts for environmental interactions and individual variation that impact population growth and behavior of earthworms. In the model, individual earthworms are affected by temperature and pH, resulting in changes in reproduction, growth, movement and mortality. WORMSPREAD allows ecologists and conservation biologists to test invasion scenarios with simulations that involve variations in landscape structure and demographic parameters that potentially affect abundance and distribution of invasive earthworm species. The user interface is easy to learn and flexible enough to incorporate new data. Results can help determine where to concentrate conservation efforts and control strategies. An example study of the spread of L. rubellus in a portion of the Adirondack Park in upstate New York demonstrates computational experiments that can be conducted with WORMSPREAD. WORMSPREAD can be used to predict population growth in real landscapes, with real variation in environmental conditions. However, it will only lead to accurate predictions if the underlying physiological and behavioral traits of the invading species are known. Indeed, our assessment of these traits for L. rubellus indicates that more data are needed for this species, and the situation is likely to be more challenging for less well-studied species. Thus we encourage more studies that relate the physiology and behavior of invasive species to variability of environmental conditions in invaded habitats.

Keywords earthworm invasion;individual-based modeling;software;conservation.

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