1. Some biosecurity systems aimed at reducing the impacts of invasive alien species that employ sentinel trapping systems to detect the presence of unwanted organisms. Once detected, the next challenge is to locate the source population of the invasive species. Tools that can direct search efforts towards the most likely sources of a trapped invasive alien species can improve the chance of rapidly delimiting and eradicating the local population and may help to identify the original introduction pathway. Ground-based detection and delimitation surveys can be very expensive, and methods to focus search efforts to those areas most likely to contain the target organisms can make these efforts more effective and efficient.
2. An individual-based semi-mechanistic model was developed to simulate the spatio-temporal dispersal patterns of an invasive moth. The model combines appetitive and pheromone anemotaxis behaviours in response to wind, temperature and pheromone conditions. The model was trained using data from a series of mark–release–recapture experiments on painted apple moth Teia anartoides.
3. The model was used to create hindcast simulations by reversing the time course of environmental conditions. The ability of the model to encompass the release location was evaluated using individual trap locations as starting points for the hindcast simulations.
4. The hindcast modelling generated a pattern of moth flights that successfully encompassed the origin from 86% of trap locations, representing 95% of the 1464 recaptures observed in the mark–release–recapture experiments.
5. Comparing the guided search area defined using the hindcast model with the area of a simple point-diffusion search strategy revealed an optimized search strategy that combined searching a circle of 1 km radius around the trap followed by the area indicated by hindcast model predictions.
6. Synthesis and applications. Incorporating this novel moth dispersal model into biosecurity sentinel systems will allow incursion managers to direct search effort for the proximal source of the incursion towards those areas most likely to contain a local infestation. Such targeted effort should reduce the costs and time taken to detect the proximal source of an incursion.