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Is metapopulation patch occupancy in nature well predicted by the Levins model?

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Population Ecology

Abstract

Although the Levins model has made important theoretical contributions to ecology, its empirical support has not been conclusively established yet. We used published colonization and extinction data from 55 metapopulations to calculate their Levins equilibrium patch occupancy. Over all species, there were not significant differences between the observed patch occupancies and the Levins model’s estimates. However, invertebrates and vertebrate species with some degree of threat had patch occupancies larger than the model’s expectancies. A temporal sampling effect was found for invertebrate species, with departure from the Levins model decreasing as the length of the study period increased. There was a negative relationship between patch occupancy and extinction probability, as expected under the “rescue effect”. The high rates at which invertebrates produce propagules could lead the Levins model to underestimate patch occupancy, whereas the observed patch occupancy of threatened species may be a transient phenomenon that results from extinction probabilities that increase over time. Therefore, the Levins model captures the metapopulation dynamics of a wide range of species in a simple formula whereas its equilibrium point can be used as evidence of metapopulation stability. Although mechanistic models provide more precise and accurate metapopulation predictions, they also can sacrifice the generality and simplicity of the Levins model.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by Fondecyt Grants 1140657 and 1131133. This manuscript benefited from the comments of two anonymous reviewers.

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Correspondence to Pablo M. Vergara.

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Vergara, P.M., Saravia-Zepeda, A., Castro-Reyes, N. et al. Is metapopulation patch occupancy in nature well predicted by the Levins model?. Popul Ecol 58, 335–343 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10144-016-0550-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10144-016-0550-5

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