Agent-based modelling of foraging behaviour: the impact of spatial heterogeneity on disease risks from faeces in grazing systems

G Marion, LA Smith, DL Swain, RS Davidson, MR Hutchings

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17 Citations (Scopus)


Many of the most pervasive disease challenges to livestock are transmitted via oral contact with faeces (or by faecal–aerosol) and the current paper focuses on how disease risk may depend on: spatial heterogeneity, animal searching behaviour, different grazing systems and faecal deposition patterns including those representative of livestock and a range of wildlife. A spatially explicit agent-based model was developed to describe the impact of empirically observed foraging and avoidance behaviours on the risk of disease presented by investigative and grazing contact with both livestock and wildlife faeces. To highlight the role of spatial heterogeneity on disease risks an analogous deterministic model, which ignores spatial heterogeneity and searching behaviour, was compared with the spatially explicit agent-based model. The models were applied to assess disease risks in temperate grazing systems. The results suggest that spatial heterogeneity is crucial in defining the disease risks to which individuals are exposed even at relatively small scales. Interestingly, however, although sensitive to other aspects of behaviour such as faecal avoidance, it was observed that disease risk is insensitive to search distance for typical domestic livestock restricted to small field plots. In contrast disease risk is highly sensitive to distributions of faecal contamination, in that contacts with highly clumped distributions of wildlife contamination are rare in comparison to those with more dispersed contamination. Finally it is argued that the model is a suitable framework to study the relative inter- and intra-specific disease risks posed to livestock under different realistic management regimes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)507 - 520
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Agricultural Science
Issue number5
Publication statusFirst published - 2008

Bibliographical note



  • Agent-based modelling
  • Disease risk
  • Foraging behaviour
  • Grazing systems
  • Spatial heterogeneity


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