The relative importance of local and regional processes to metapopulation dynamics

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Metapopulation dynamics – patch occupancy, colonization and extinction – are the result of complex processes at both local (e.g. environmental conditions) and regional (e.g. spatial arrangement of habitat patches) scales. A large body of work has focused on habitat patch area and connectivity (area-isolation paradigm). However, these approaches often do not incorporate local environmental conditions or fully address how the spatial arrangement of habitat patches (and resulting connectivity) can influence metapopulation dynamics.Here, we utilize long-term data on a classic metapopulation system – the Glanville fritillary butterfly occupying a set of dry meadows and pastures in the Åland islands – to investigate the relative roles of local environmental conditions, geographic space and connectivity in capturing patch occupancy, colonization and extinction. We defined connectivity using traditional measures as well as graph-theoretic measures of centrality. Using boosted regression tree models, we find roughly comparable model performance among models trained on environmental conditions, geographic space or patch centrality.In models containing all of the covariates, we find strong and consistent evidence for the roles of resource abundance, longitude and centrality (i.e. connectivity) in predicting habitat patch occupancy and colonization, while patch centrality (connectivity) was relatively unimportant for predicting extinction. Relative variable importance did not change when geographic coordinates were not considered and models underwent spatially stratified cross-validation.Together, this suggests that the combination of regional-scale connectivity measures and local-scale environmental conditions is important for predicting metapopulation dynamics and that a stronger integration of ideas from network theory may provide insight into metapopulation processes.The relative influence of local scale environmental conditions and regional scale connectivity on metapopulation dynamics is largely unclear. Here, the authors present a framework to incorporate both scales and estimate their relative importance in a foundational metapopulation system, the Glanville fritillary butterfly in the Åland islands. Photo credit: Ana Salgado.

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