, Volume 24, Issue 8, pp 1123-1133
Date: 19 Dec 2008

Sacrificing patches for linear habitat elements enhances metapopulation performance of woodland birds in fragmented landscapes

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Abstract

It is generally assumed that large patches of natural habitat are better for the survival of species than the same amount of habitat in smaller fragments or linear elements like hedges and tree rows. We use a spatially explicit individual-based model of a woodland bird to explore this hypothesis. We specifically ask whether mixtures of large, small and linear habitat elements are better for population performance than landscapes that consist of only large elements. With equal carrying capacity, metapopulations perform equally or better in heterogeneous landscape types that are a mix of linear, large and small habitat elements. We call this increased metapopulation performance of large and small elements “synergy”. These mixed conditions are superior because the small linear elements facilitate dispersal while patches secure the population in the long run because they have a lower extinction risk. The linear elements are able to catch and guide dispersing animals which results in higher connectivity between patches leading to higher metapopulation survival. Our results suggest that landscape designers should not always seek to conserve and create larger units but might better strive for more variable landscapes with mixtures of patch sizes and shapes. This is especially important when smaller units play a key role in connecting patches and dispersal through the matrix is poor.