, Volume 17, Issue 8, pp 699-710

Estimating the consequences of habitat fragmentation on extinction risk in dynamic landscapes

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Analyzing the population dynamic consequences of spatio-temporal changes in landscape structure is a formidable challenge for spatial ecology. One key population dynamic process in fragmented landscapes is the influence of isolation on colonization rate and thereby on the occurrence of species in habitat fragments, but it is not obvious how isolation should be measured in landscapes that are affected by on-going habitat loss and fragmentation. We suggest the following procedure for the measurement of spatio-temporal isolation. First, a historical record of habitat loss and fragmentation in the landscape is prepared based on snapshots of the extent of the suitable habitat for the focal species. Second, a metapopulation model is used to simulate the occurrence of the species in this landscape, assuming the empirically observed landscape change. The model-predicted pattern of habitat occupancy at a particular point in time (usually the present time) is then compared with empirical observations on the occurrence of the species. We describe a metapopulation model that has been constructed for this purpose, and we apply it to a changing landscape of boreal forests in eastern Finland. We give an example on the occurrence of four threatened polyporous fungi in 18 small fragments of old-growth forest. In none of the species does the current isolation of the fragments nor the time since their isolation explain the occurrence of the species in the study fragments, but in three species the model-predicted occupancy probability had a significant effect on the observed abundance of the species. The model-predicted occupancy probabilities were also calculated by ignoring past landscape changes, that is, by assuming that the landscape had remained in the present configuration for a long time. These probabilities had a significant effect on the abundance of only one of the four species, suggesting that the occurrence of the species tracks landscapes changes with a noticable time lag.

This revised version was published online in May 2005 with corrections to the Cover Date.