, Volume 20, Issue 7, pp 857-870

Modelling the Effects of Dispersal and Landscape Configuration on Population Distribution and Viability in Fragmented Habitat

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Abstract

Landscape configuration and dispersal characteristics are major determinants of population distribution and persistence in fragmented habitat. An individual-based spatially explicit population model was developed to investigate these factors using the distribution of nuthatches in an area of eastern England as an example. The effects of immigration and increasing the area of breeding quality habitat were explored. Predictions were compared with observed population sizes in the study area. Our model combined a nuthatch population simulator based on individual behaviour with a grid-based representation of the landscape; nuthatch life cycle and immigration parameters were user selectable. A novel aspect of the model is user-selection of habitat perceptual range. Using a realistic set of parameters, the number of breeding pairs predicted by the model matched observed numbers. According to model simulations, the main cause of nuthatch scarcity in the study area was the inability of patches to support viable populations without immigration from elsewhere. Modelled habitat management, which increased breeding quality habitat in existing woods, lowered the threshold above which the study area population became self-sustaining. The existence of a large core habitat area was critical in producing a self-sustaining population in this landscape, the same area in dispersed small woods failed to sustain populations.