Metapopulation processes and persistence in remnant water vole populations

S. Telfer, R. Donaldson, A. Holt, Xavier Lambin

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Abstract

We examined the spatial distribution of water vote populations in four consecutive years and investigated whether the regional population processes of extinction, recolonisation and migration influence distribution and persistence, We examined how such regional processes are influenced by spatial variation in habitat quality. In addition, we assessed the relevance of metapopulation concepts for understanding the dynamics of species that deviate from classical metapopulation assumptions and developing conservation measures for them. Populations were patchy and discrete, and the patchy distribution was not static between years. Population turnover occurred even in the absence of predatory mink, which only influenced the network of populations at the end of the study. Most populations were clustered close together in the upper tributaries. Local population persistence was predominantly influenced by population size: large populations were more persistent. Recolonisation rates were influenced by isolation and habitat quality. The isolation estimates which best explained the distribution of water vote populations incorporated straight-line distances, suggesting water votes disperse overland. The distribution of recolonised sites indicated that dispersing votes actively selected habitat on the basis of its quality. Water votes depart from some of the assumptions made by frequently used metapopulation models. In particular there is no clear binary distinction between suitable and non-suitable habitat. Accounting for variation in habitat quality before investigating temporal changes in population distribution allowed us to demonstrate that the key metapopulation processes were important. The significance of regional population processes relative to local population processes may have increased in declining, fragmented populations compared to pristine regional populations. We hypothesise that although mink predation is likely to eventually cause regional extinction in many areas, metapopulation processes have delayed this decline. Consequently, conservation measures should take into account mink predation rates and regional population processes, before considering aspects of habitat quality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-42
Number of pages11
JournalOikos
Volume95
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2001

Keywords

  • EXTINCTION THRESHOLDS
  • DYNAMICS
  • HABITAT
  • MODELS
  • LANDSCAPE

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