Using electric network theory to model the spread of oak processionary moth, Thaumetopoea processionea, in urban woodland patches

Daniel J Cowley, Oliver T Johnson, Michael J O Pocock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
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Habitat fragmentation is increasing as a result of anthropogenic activities, especially in urban areas. Dispersal through fragmented habitats is key for species to spread, persist in metapopulations and shift range in response to climate change. However, high habitat connectivity may also hasten the spread of invasive species.

To develop a model of spread in fragmented landscapes and apply it to the spread of an invasive insect in urban woodland.

We applied a patch-based model, based on electric network theory, to model the current and predicted future spread of oak processionary moth (OPM: Thaumetopoea processionea) from its source in west London. We compared the pattern of ‘effective distance’ from the source (i.e. the patch ‘voltage’ in the model) with the observed spread of the moth from 2006 to 2012.

We showed that ‘effective distance’ fitted current spread of OPM. Patches varied considerably in their ‘current’ and ‘power’ (metrics from the model), which is an indication of their importance in the future spread of OPM.

Patches identified as ‘important’ are potential ‘pinch points’ and regions of high ‘flow’, where resources for detection and management will be most cost-effectively deployed. However, data on OPM dispersal and the distribution of oak trees limited the strength of our conclusions, so should be priorities for further data collection. This application of electric network theory can be used to inform landscape-scale conservation initiatives both to reduce the spread of invasives and to facilitate large-scale species’ range shifts in response to climate change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)905-918
Number of pages14
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number5
Early online date5 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - May 2015


  • Spatial habitat networks
  • Patch-based graph
  • Connectivity
  • Random walks
  • Electric network theory
  • Circuit theory
  • Invasive species
  • Oak processionary moth
  • Thaumetopea processionea
  • Habitat fragmentation


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