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Title: The role of habitat disturbance and recovery in metapopulation persistence.

Authors: C. Wilcox, B.J. Cairns and H.P. Possingham.

Reference: Ecology 87(4): 855-863.

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Abstract: Classical metapopulation theory assumes a static landscape. However, empirical evidence indicates many metapopulations are driven by habitat dynamics, such as succession and disturbance. We develop a stochastic model, incorporating habitat disturbance and recovery, coupled with patch colonization and extinction, to investigate the effect of habitat dynamics on metapopulation persistence. We discover that habitat dynamics play a fundamental role in metapopulation dynamics. Metapopulation persistence is dependent not only on the average lifetime of a patch, but also on the relative magnitudes of patch disturbance rate, disturbance intensity and patch recovery rate. Moreover, there is an interaction between the habitat and metapopulation dynamics, for instance declining metapopulations react differently to habitat dynamics than expanding metapopulations. We emphasize 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).

Keywords. Metapopulation, succession, disturbance, habitat, extinction, quasistationary, persistence, colonisation, fire.

Acknowledgement. The work of B.J. Cairns is supported by a PhD scholarship from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Mathematics and Statistics of Complex Systems.


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Cancer Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford, Richard Doll Building, Roosevelt Drive, Oxford OX3 7LF, U.K.