Demographic network and multi-season occupancy modeling of Rana sylvatica reveal spatial and temporal patterns of population connectivity and persistence
Many populations are spatially structured with frequent extinction–colonization events. A clear understanding of these processes is necessary for making informed and effective management decisions. Due to the spatially and temporally dynamic nature of many systems, population connectivity and local extinction–colonization processes can be difficult to assess, but graph theoretic and occupancy modeling approaches are increasingly being utilized to answer such vital ecological questions. In our study, we used 6 years of egg mass counts from 34 ponds for Rana sylvatica to parameterize spatially explicit demographic network models. Our models revealed that the studied populations have spatial structure with strong source–sink dynamics. We also assessed the colonization and persistence probability of each pond using multi-season occupancy modeling. We observed extreme fluctuation in reproductive effort among years, resulting in variable levels of connectivity across the landscape. Pond colonization and persistence were most influenced by local population dynamics, but colonization was also affected by precipitation. Our demographic network model had moderate ability to predict reproductive effort, but accuracy was hindered by variation in annual precipitation. Source populations had higher colonization and persistence rates as well as a greater proportion of ravine habitat within 1,000 m than sink populations. By linking a spatially explicit connectivity model with a temporal occupancy/persistence model, we provide a framework for interpreting patterns of occupancy and dispersal that can serve as an initial guide for future habitat management and restoration.