The role of habitat disturbance and recovery in metapopulation persistence.
Wilcox C., Cairns BJ., Possingham HP.
Classical metapopulation theory assumes a static landscape. However, empirical evidence indicates many metapopulations are driven by habitat succession and disturbance. We develop a stochastic metapopulation model, incorporating habitat disturbance and recovery, coupled with patch colonization and extinction, to investigate the effect of habitat dynamics on persistence. We discover that habitat dynamics play a fundamental role in metapopulation dynamics. The mean number of suitable habitat patches is not adequate for characterizing the dynamics of the metapopulation. For a fixed mean number of suitable patches, we discover that the details of how disturbance affects patches and how patches recover influences metapopulation dynamics in a fundamental way. Moreover, metapopulation persistence is dependent not only on the average lifetime of a patch, but also on the variance in patch lifetime and the synchrony in patch dynamics that results from disturbance. Finally, there is an interaction between the habitat and metapopulation dynamics, for instance declining metapopulations react differently to habitat dynamics than expanding metapopulations. We close, emphasizing the importance of using performance measures appropriate to stochastic systems when evaluating their behavior, such as the probability distribution of the state of the metapopulation, conditional on it being extant (i.e., the quasistationary distribution).