Spatial Heterogeneity in Habitat Quality and Cross-Scale Interactions in Metapopulations
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Integration of habitat heterogeneity into spatially realistic metapopulation approaches reveals the potential for key cross-scale interactions. Broad-scale environmental gradients and land-use practices can create autocorrelation of habitat quality of suitable patches at intermediate spatial scales. Patch occupancy then depends not only on habitat quality at the patch scale but also on feedbacks from surrounding neighborhoods of autocorrelated patches. Metapopulation dynamics emerge from how demographic and dispersal processes interact with relevant habitat heterogeneity. We provide an empirical example from a metapopulation of round-tailed muskrats (Neofiberalleni) in which habitat quality of suitable patches was spatially autocorrelated most strongly within 1,000 m, which was within the expected dispersal range of the species. After controlling for factors typically considered in metapopulation studies—patch size, local patch quality, patch connectivity—we use a cross-variogram analysis to demonstrate that patch occupancy by muskrats was correlated with habitat quality across scales ≤1,171 m. We also discuss general consequences of spatial heterogeneity of habitat quality for metapopulations related to potential cross-scale interactions. We focus on spatially correlated extinctions and metapopulation persistence, hierarchical scaling of source–sink dynamics, and dispersal decisions by individuals in relation to information constraints.