, Volume 173, Issue 3, pp 933-946
Date: 23 Apr 2013

Patch quality and context, but not patch number, drive multi-scale colonization dynamics in experimental aquatic landscapes

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Colonization and extinction are primary drivers of local population dynamics, community structure, and spatial patterns of biological diversity. Existing paradigms of island biogeography, metapopulation biology, and metacommunity ecology, as well as habitat management and conservation biology based on those paradigms, emphasize patch size, number, and isolation as primary characteristics influencing colonization and extinction. Habitat selection theory suggests that patch quality could rival size, number, and isolation in determining rates of colonization and resulting community structure. We used naturally colonized experimental landscapes to address four issues: (a) how do colonizing aquatic beetles respond to variation in patch number, (b) how do they respond to variation in patch quality, (c) does patch context affect colonization dynamics, and (d) at what spatial scales do beetles respond to habitat variation? Increasing patch number had no effect on per patch colonization rates, while patch quality and context were critical in determining colonization rates and resulting patterns of abundance and species richness at multiple spatial scales. We graphically illustrate how variation in immigration rates driven by perceived predation risk (habitat quality) can further modify dynamics of the equilibrium theory of island biogeography beyond predator-driven effects on extinction rates. Our data support the importance of patch quality and context as primary determinants of colonization rate, occupancy, abundance, and resulting patterns of species richness, and reinforce the idea that management of metapopulations for species preservation, and metacommunities for local and regional diversity, should incorporate habitat quality into the predictive equation.

Communicated by Craig Osenberg.