Article

Metapopulations and Spatial Population Processes

Ilkka Hanski

in Ecology

ISBN: 9780199830060
Published online May 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0054
Metapopulations and Spatial Population Processes

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  • Applied Ecology (Environmental Science)
  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Plant Ecology
  • Zoology and Animal Sciences

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Many habitats have a fragmented spatial distribution at the landscape level, such as networks of ponds in many regions, woodlands, and uncultivated meadows in agricultural landscapes, and parks in cities. Species in such habitats have similarly fragmented distributions; individual habitat fragments may harbor local populations, which together compose a metapopulation, a network of local populations connected by individuals dispersing between the habitat fragments and local populations. Metapopulations are common, because most species have more or less specialized habitat requirements, and their habitats are more or less fragmented. Human land use and other global environmental changes have further fragmented many previously more continuous habitats, and therefore the metapopulation concept has become widely applied in conservation and land-use management. The metapopulation concept was established in the literature in the late 1960s, though some ecologists had formulated ideas about spatially fragmented populations in the early part of the 20th century. Mathematical models have been constructed to study the ecological processes that influence metapopulation persistence. In particular, metapopulations consisting of many small local populations with a high risk of local extinction may persist at the landscape level if the rate of establishment of new populations by dispersing individuals is sufficiently high to compensate for local extinctions. Metapopulation ecology thus highlights the significance of dispersal and recolonization in the dynamics of species, but a range of other factors are also important, including spatial heterogeneity in habitat type, which may lead to local adaptation; temporally changing environmental conditions, which may elevate the risk of extinction; and interactions among different species living in the same network of habitat fragments and that together comprise metacommunities, or local communities connected by dispersal. Metapopulation processes influence the maintenance of genetic variation and the evolution of species at the landscape level. Metapopulation ecology underscores the significance of the spatial structure of the habitat on population processes, but since the 1970s ecologists have realized that spatially restricted dispersal and other population processes may generate spatially aggregated distributions of species in continuous habitats. Ecologists and evolutionary biologists now consider that spatial processes influence the demographic, genetic, and evolutionary dynamics of most species.

Article.  10020 words. 

Subjects: Applied Ecology (Environmental Science) ; Ecology and Conservation ; Plant Ecology ; Zoology and Animal Sciences

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