Simulating the fate of Florida Snowy Plovers with sea-level rise: Exploring research and management priorities with a global uncertainty and sensitivity analysis perspective

M. L. Chu-Agor, R. Muñoz-Carpena, G. A. Kiker, M. E. Aiello-Lammens, H. R. Akçakaya, M. Convertino, I. Linkov

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Changes in coastal habitats due to sea-level rise provide an uncertain, yet significant threat to shoreline dependent birds. Rising sea levels can cause habitat fragmentation and loss which can result in considerable reduction in their foraging and nesting areas. Computational models and their algorithmic assumptions play an integral role in exploring potential mitigation responses to uncertain and potentially adverse ecological outcomes. The presence of uncertainty in metapopulation models is widely acknowledged but seldom considered in their development and evaluation, specifically the effects of uncertain model inputs on the model outputs. This paper was aimed to (1) quantify the contribution of each uncertain input factor to the uncertainty in the output of a metapopulation model which evaluated the effects of long-term sea-level rise on the population of Snowy Plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus) found in the Gulf Coast of Florida, and (2) determine the ranges of model inputs that produced a specific output for the purpose of formulating environmental management decisions. This was carried out by employing global sensitivity and uncertainty analysis (GSA) using two generic (model independent) methods, the qualitative screening Morris method and a quantitative variance-based Sobol' method coupled with Monte Carlo filtering. The analyses were applied to three density dependence scenarios: assuming a ceiling-type density dependence, assuming a contest-type density dependence, and assuming that density dependence is uncertain as to being ceiling- or contest-dependent. The sources of uncertainty in the outputs depended strongly on the type of density dependence considered in the model. In general, uncertainty in the outputs highly depended on the uncertainty in stage matrix elements (fecundity, adult survival, and juvenile survival), dispersal rate from central areas with low current populations (the "Big Bend" area of Florida) to the northern, panhandle populations, the maximum growth rate, and density dependence type. Our results showed that increasing the maximum growth rate to a value of 1.2 or larger will increase the final average population of Snowy Plovers assuming a contest-type density dependence. Results suggest that studies that further quantify which density dependence relationship best describes Snowy Plover population dynamics should be conducted since this is the main driver of uncertainty in model outcomes. Furthermore, investigating the presence of Snowy Plovers in the Big Bend region may be important for providing connection between the panhandle and peninsula populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-47
Number of pages15
JournalEcological Modelling
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 10 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding was provided by the Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (project SI-1699). Permission was granted by the USACE Chief of Engineers to publish this material. The views and opinions expressed in this paper are those of the individual authors and not those of the U.S. Army, or other sponsor organizations. The authors acknowledge the University of Florida, High-Performance Computing Center ( ) for providing computational resources and support that have contributed to the results reported in this paper.

Copyright 2012 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Metapopulation
  • Monte Carlo filtering
  • Sensitivity analysis
  • Snowy Plover
  • Uncertainty analysis


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