Landscape fragmentation overturns classical metapopulation thinking

By: , and 



Habitat loss and isolation caused by landscape fragmentation represent a growing threat to global biodiversity. Existing theory suggests that the process will lead to a decline in metapopulation viability. However, since most metapopulation models are restricted to simple networks of discrete habitat patches, the effects of real landscape fragmentation, particularly in stochastic environments, are not well understood. To close this major gap in ecological theory, we developed a spatially explicit, individual-based model applicable to realistic landscape structures, bridging metapopulation ecology and landscape ecology. This model reproduced classical metapopulation dynamics under conventional model assumptions, but on fragmented landscapes, it uncovered general dynamics that are in stark contradiction to the prevailing views in the ecological and conservation literature. Notably, fragmentation can give rise to a series of dualities: a) positive and negative responses to environmental noise, b) relative slowdown and acceleration in density decline, and c) synchronization and desynchronization of local population dynamics. Furthermore, counter to common intuition, species that interact locally (“residents”) were often more resilient to fragmentation than long-ranging “migrants.” This set of findings signals a need to fundamentally reconsider our approach to ecosystem management in a noisy and fragmented world.
Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Landscape fragmentation overturns classical metapopulation thinking
Series title PNAS
DOI 10.1073/pnas.2303846121
Volume 121
Issue 20
Year Published 2024
Language English
Publisher PNAS
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description e2303846121, 8 p.
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