, Volume 19, Issue 8, pp 829-842

Quantifying functional connectivity: experimental evidence for patch-specific resistance in the Natterjack toad (Bufo calamita)

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Abstract

Despite the importance assigned to inter-patch movements in fragmented systems, the structure of landscape between suitable habitat patches, the matrix, is often considered as to be of minor interest, or totally ignored. Consequently, models predicting metapopulation dynamics typically assume that dispersal and movement abilities are independent of the composition of the matrix. The predictions of such models should be invalided if that crucial assumption is unverified. In order to test the hypothesis of a patch-specific resistance, we led an experimental study to assess the matrix effects on the movement ability of juvenile Natterjack toads (Bufo calamita). The movement behaviour of first year toadlets, the dispersal stage in this species, was investigated in an arena experiment. Toadlet mobility was assessed in five landscape components that were mimicked in the lab: sandy soil, road, forest, agricultural field, and pasture. We analysed several movement components including move length, speed, efficiency and turning angle distribution. Our results showed that movement ability was strongly affected by the land cover, even if body size modulated the behavioural responses of toadlets. Performances were the best in the arenas mimicking sand and roads, and the worst in the forest arena, toadlet moves being three to five times less effective in the latter. The mobility was intermediate in the two other arenas. We propose here a new method to quantify functional connectivity, based on quantitative estimates of relative values for resistance of landscape components. This method offers a reliable alternative for resistance value estimates to subjective ‘expert advice’ or inference from genetic population structure.

This revised version was published online in July 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.