Habitat quality of source patches and connectivity in fragmented landscapes
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Because spatial connectivity is critical to dispersal success and persistence of species in highly fragmented landscapes, the way that we envision and measure connectivity is consequential for biodiversity conservation. Connectivity metrics used for predictive modeling of spatial turnover and patch occupancy for metapopulations, such as with Incidence Function Models (IFM), incorporate distances to and sizes of possible source populations. Here, our focus is on whether habitat quality of source patches also is considered in these connectivity metrics. We propose that effective areas (weighted by habitat quality) of source patches should be better surrogates for population size and dispersal potential compared to unadjusted patch areas. Our review of a representative sample of the literature revealed that only 12.5% of studies incorporated habitat quality of source patches into IFM-type connectivity metrics. Quality of source patches generally was not taken into account in studies even if habitat quality of focal patches was included in analyses. We provide an empirical example for a metapopulation of a rare wetland species, the round-tailed muskrat (Neofiber alleni), demonstrating that a connectivity metric based on effective areas of source patches better predicts patch colonization and occupancy than a metric that used simple patch areas. The ongoing integration of landscape ecology and metapopulation dynamics could be hastened by incorporating habitat quality of source patches into spatial connectivity metrics applied to species conservation in fragmented landscapes.
KeywordsColonization Connectivity Fragmentation Habitat heterogeneity Metapopulation Patch quality Neofiber alleni
We are grateful to S. Cardiff, J. Christopoulos, R. Gilbreath, M. McDermott, A. Pries, L. Showen, M. Shumar, and C. Wolf for assistance with fieldwork. We also thank J. Bridges, P. Ebersbach, P. Margosian, S. Orzell, S. Penfield, and P. Walsh for facilitating our study at Avon Park Air Force Range. Our research on Neofiber was funded by a grant from the US Department of Defense.
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