Many biologists use population models that are spatial, stochastic and individual based. Analytical methods that describe the behaviour of these models approximately are attracting increasing interest as an alternative to expensive computer simulation. The methods can be employed for both prediction and fitting models to data. Recent work has extended existing (mean field) methods with the aim of accounting for the development of spatial correlations. A common feature is the use of closure approximations for truncating the set of evolution equations for summary statistics. We investigate an analytical approach for spatial and stochastic models where individuals interact according to a generic function of their distance; this extends previous methods for lattice models with interactions between close neighbours, such as the pair approximation. Our study also complements work by Bolker and Pacala (BP) [Theor. Pop. Biol. 52 (1997) 179; Am. Naturalist 153 (1999) 575]: it treats individuals as being spatially discrete (defined on a lattice) rather than as a continuous mass distribution; it tests the accuracy of different closure approximations over parameter space, including the additive moment closure (MC) used by BP and the Kirkwood approximation. The study is done in the context of an susceptible-infected-susceptible epidemic model with primary infection and with secondary infection represented by power-law interactions. MC is numerically unstable or inaccurate in parameter regions with low primary infection (or density-independent birth rates). A modified Kirkwood approximation gives stable and generally accurate transient and long-term solutions; we argue it can be applied to lattice and to continuous-space models as a substitute for MC. We derive a generalisation of the basic reproduction ratio, R0, for spatial models. © 2003 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.
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