Developmental models for estimating ecological responses to environmental variability: structural, parametric, and experimental issues.


Developmental models that account for the metabolic effect of temperature variability on poikilotherms, such as degree-day models, have been widely used to study organism emergence, range and development, particularly in agricultural and vector-borne disease contexts. Though simple and easy to use, structural and parametric issues can influence the outputs of such models, often substantially. Because the underlying assumptions and limitations of these models have rarely been considered, this paper reviews the structural, parametric, and experimental issues that arise when using degree-day models, including the implications of particular structural or parametric choices, as well as assumptions that underlie commonly used models. Linear and non-linear developmental functions are compared, as are common methods used to incorporate temperature thresholds and calculate daily degree-days. Substantial differences in predicted emergence time arose when using linear versus non-linear developmental functions to model the emergence time in a model organism. The optimal method for calculating degree-days depends upon where key temperature threshold parameters fall relative to the daily minimum and maximum temperatures, as well as the shape of the daily temperature curve. No method is shown to be universally superior, though one commonly used method, the daily average method, consistently provides accurate results. The sensitivity of model projections to these methodological issues highlights the need to make structural and parametric selections based on a careful consideration of the specific biological response of the organism under study, and the specific temperature conditions of the geographic regions of interest. When degree-day model limitations are considered and model assumptions met, the models can be a powerful tool for studying temperature-dependent development.

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