Validation of a sea lice dispersal model : principles from ecological agent-based models applied to aquatic epidemiology

Cantrell, Danielle and Vanderstichel, Raphael and Filgueira, Ramón and Grant, Jon and Revie, Crawford (2021) Validation of a sea lice dispersal model : principles from ecological agent-based models applied to aquatic epidemiology. Aquaculture Environment Interactions (AEI), 13. pp. 65-79. ISSN 1869-7534 (

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Sea lice are one of the most economically costly and ecologically concerning problems facing the salmon farming industry. Here, we validated a coupled biological and physical model that simulated sea lice larvae dispersal from salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago (BA), British Columbia, Canada. We employed a concept from ecological agent-based modeling known as ‘pattern matching’, which identifies similar emergent properties in both the simulated and observed data to confirm that the simulation contained sufficient complexity to recreate the emergent properties of the system. One emergent property from the biophysical simulations was the existence of sub-networks of farms. These were also identified in the observed sea lice count data in this study using a space−time scan statistic (SaTScan) to identify significant spatio-temporal clusters of farms. Despite finding support for our simulation in the observed data, which consisted of over a decade’s worth of monthly sea lice abundance counts from salmon farms in the BA, the validation was not entirely straightforward. The complexities associated with validating this biophysical dispersal simulation highlight the need to further develop validation techniques for agent-based models in general, and biophysical simulations in particular, which often result in patchiness in their dispersal fields. The methods utilised in this validation could be adopted as a template for other epidemiological dispersal models, particularly those related to aquaculture, which typically have robust disease monitoring data collection plans in place.


Cantrell, Danielle, Vanderstichel, Raphael, Filgueira, Ramón, Grant, Jon and Revie, Crawford ORCID logoORCID:;