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An introduction to population matrix models: a swirl lesson

Author(s): Jennifer Apple

SUNY Geneseo

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In this exercise students learn how to build a population matrix model in R to represent demographic parameters for a population and perform demographic analyses using the R package ‘popbio.’ Two swirl lessons guide students through setting up the matrix and analysis using the matrix model. After completing these swirl lessons, students should be able to:

  • develop a population matrix model in R
  • understand the components of a population matrix model
  • use a population matrix model to project population size in the future
  • estimate lambda and determine the stable age distribution
  • interpret the values from an elasticity analysis

This exercise was developed for an introductory ecology course typically taken by sophomores. Students should have some familiarity with R. Students taking the swirl course should also be given the supplied pdf file, “An introduction to using population matrix models in R,” which provides background information and some of the R code they will need. Powerpoint slides to introduce matrix models are also provided. This swirl course could be completed within a 50-minute class period by most students, if necessary background on population growth and matrix models is provided in advance and the course is installed via RStudio before the class period. Separate instructions to guide students through the process of installing swirl and the course file are provided. Students could also complete the swirl lessons outside of class time or in an online-only course.

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