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Metapopulation dynamics on ephemeral patches.

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A challenge for conservation management is to understand how population and habitat dynamics interact to affect species persistence. In real landscapes, timing and duration of disturbances can vary, and species' responses to habitat changes will depend on how timing of dispersal and reproduction events relate to the landscape temporal structure. For instance, increasing disturbance frequency may promote extinction of species that are unable to appropriately time their reproduction in an ever-changing habitat and favor species that are able to track habitat changes. We developed a mathematical model to compare the effects of pulsed dispersal, initiated by shifts in habitat quality, with temporally continuous dispersal. We tested the effects of habitat (and population) turnover rates on metapopulation establishment, persistence, and long-term patch occupancy. Pulsed dispersal reduced patch occupancy and metapopulation longevity when habitat patches are relatively permanent. In such cases, demographic extinction was the primary form of local extinction. Conversely, when habitat patches are short-lived and new ones are frequently formed, pulsed dispersal promoted rapid colonization, increased occupancy, and prolonged metapopulation persistence. Our results show that species responsiveness to habitat disturbance is critical to metapopulation persistence, having profound implications for the species likely to persist in landscapes with altered disturbance regimes.

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