Original Paper

Theoretical Ecology

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 73-82

First online:

The distinct effects of habitat fragmentation on population size

  • Kathy W. HerbenerAffiliated withGraduate Degree Program in Ecology, Colorado State UniversityProgram for Interdisciplinary Mathematics, Ecology and Statistics, Colorado State University
  • , Simon J. TavenerAffiliated withDepartment of Mathematics, Colorado State University Email author 
  • , N. Thompson HobbsAffiliated withNatural Resources Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University

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We sought to understand how the separation of habitats into spatially isolated fragments influences the abundance of organisms. Using a simple, deterministic model of population growth, we compared analytically exact solutions predicting abundance of consumers in two isolated patches with abundance of consumers in a single large patch where the carrying capacity of the large patch is the sum of the carrying capacities of the isolated ones. For the deterministic model, the effect of fragmentation was to slow the rate of population growth in the fragmented habitat relative to the intact one. We also analyzed a stochastic version of the model to examine the effect of fragmentation on population abundance when resources vary randomly in time. For the stochastic model, the effect of fragmentation was to reduce population abundance. We proved in closed-form, that for a non-equilibrium population exhibiting logistic population growth, fragmentation will reduce population size even when the total carrying capacity is not affected by fragmentation. We provide a theoretical basis for the prediction that habitat fragmentation amplifies the effect of habitat loss on the abundance of mobile organisms.


Habitat fragmentation Logistic growth Stochastic Non-equilibrium Model Population