Theoretical Ecology

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 111–127 | Cite as

Landscape configuration drives persistent spatial patterns of occupant distributions

  • Elizabeth A. HammanEmail author
  • Scott A. McKinley
  • Adrian C. Stier
  • Craig W. Osenberg


Variation in the density of organisms among habitat patches is often attributed to variation in inherent patch properties. For example, higher quality patches might have higher densities because they attract more colonists or confer better post-colonization survival. However, variation in occupant density can also be driven by landscape configuration if neighboring patches draw potential colonists away from the focal habitat (a phenomenon we call propagule redirection). Here, we develop and analyze a stochastic model to quantify the role of landscape configuration and propagule redirection on occupant density patterns. We model a system with a dispersive larval stage and a sedentary adult stage. The model includes sensing and decision-making in the colonization stage and density-dependent mortality (a proxy for patch quality) in the post-colonization stage. We demonstrate that spatial variation in colonization is retained when the supply of colonists is not too high, post-colonization density-dependent survival is not too strong, and colonization events are not too frequent. Using a reef fish system, we show that the spatial variation produced by propagule redirection is comparable to spatial variation expected when patch quality varies. Thus, variation in density arising from the spatial patterning of otherwise identical habitat can play an important role in shaping long-term spatial patterns of organisms occupying patchy habitats. Propagule redirection is a potentially powerful mechanism by which landscape configuration can drive variation in occupant densities, and may therefore offer new insights into how populations may shift as landscapes change in response to natural and anthropogenic forces.


Propagule redirection Settlement shadows Density dependence Patch selection 



We thank the Osenberg lab and Shilpa Khatri for helpful discussions and the National Science Foundation (OCE-1130359, OCE-0242312) and the QSE3 IGERT program (DGE-0801544) and Army Research Office (Grant Number 64430-MA) for support. We would also like to thank Ben Bolker, Alan Hastings, and anonymous reviewers for feedback on an earlier version of this manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Odum School of EcologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.Department of MathematicsTulane UniversityNew OrleansUSA
  3. 3.Department of Ecology Evolution and Marine BiologyUniversity of California Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA

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