Sometimes I have good ideas. Less often those ideas are new. Given my interest in native plants as habitat, about 6 months ago I thought I would try to model wildlife migration on a grid (which would stand in for typical suburban lots) using percolation theory. However, a quick Google search turns up lots of prior work. So this is only a potentially good idea that isn't even novel.
The first article that I read was confusing on more than one level. Give the first page a read (or not) below. My guess is that you'll quickly get bogged down and skip past it.
Neutral Models: Useful Tools for Understanding Landscape Patterns
SCOTT M. PEARSON and ROBERT H. GARDNER
A neutral model is a minimum set of rules required to generate pattern in the absence of a particular process (or set of processes) being studied. The results of the neutral model provide a means of testing the effect of the measured process on patterns that are actually observed (Caswell l976). If observed patterns do not differ from the neutral model, then the measured process has not significantly affected the observed pattern. Conversely, when results differ from model predictions in a way that is consistent with a particular process, then strong evidence for the importance of this process has been obtained. Several authors have argued that formulation of a proper neutral model is necessary for hypothesis testing, because data often exhibit nonrandom patterns in the absence of the causal mechanisms of interest (Quinn and Dunham 1983). This approach has been discussed extensively in the field of community ecology (e.g., Conner and Simberloff 1984, 1986; Haefner 1988) as well as other areas of biology (Nitecki and Hoffman 1987).
Neutral models are useful in landscape ecology, a field of ecology that emphasizes the complex relationships between landscape pattern and ecological process (Turner 1989, Gardner and O'tieill1991). Processes, such as disturbance, can produce landscape patterns by changing the abundance and location of habitat patches (Baker 1992). Likewise, patterns have important effects on ecological processes. For example, habitat fragmentation affects metapopulation dynamics (Holt et al. 1995), gene flow (Ballal et a1.1994), and dispersal (Santos and Telleria 1994). The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate the usefulness of neutral models to landscape ecology by discussing how neutral models (1) assist the investigator in understanding patterns in spatial data and (2) are useful for generating maps for quantifying the effect of landscape pattern on ecological processes.
8.2 A Simple Neutral Model
Neutral models help landscape ecologists understand relationships between measures of spatial pattern and landcover abundance. A simple neutral model designed to explore the effect of changes in the abundance of a habitat on the spatial pattern of landcover (Gardner et al. 1987) was derived from the principles of percolation theory (Stauffer and Aharony 1992).
Was I right?
Even after reading this article several times, I don't have a good plain English understanding of what they are trying to say. This isn't helped by the fact that I seem to have stumbled upon a small tempest in a teapot regarding the use of a neutral model versus a null model. In population ecology and related fields, a null model seems to be a migration model fit with constraints measured from data whereas the neutral model attempts a statistically based description that can be scaled to data. I'm probably wrong, but that's what I'm going with right now.