The importance of realistic dispersal models in conservation planning: application of a novel modelling platform to evaluate management scenarios in an Afrotropical biodiversity hotspot.
ABSTRACT: As biodiversity hotspots are often characterized by high human population densities, implementation of conservation management practices that focus only on the protection and enlargement of pristine habitats is potentially unrealistic. An alternative approach to curb species extinction risk involves improving connectivity among existing habitat patches. However, evaluation of spatially explicit management strategies is challenging, as predictive models must account for the process of dispersal, which is difficult in terms of both empirical data collection and modelling.Here, we use a novel, individual-based modelling platform that couples demographic and mechanistic dispersal models to evaluate the effectiveness of realistic management scenarios tailored to conserve forest birds in a highly fragmented biodiversity hotspot. Scenario performance is evaluated based on the spatial population dynamics of a well-studied forest bird species.The largest population increase was predicted to occur under scenarios increasing habitat area. However, the effectiveness was sensitive to spatial planning. Compared to adding one large patch to the habitat network, adding several small patches yielded mixed benefits: although overall population sizes increased, specific newly created patches acted as dispersal sinks, which compromised population persistence in some existing patches. Increasing matrix connectivity by the creation of stepping stones is likely to result in enhanced dispersal success and occupancy of smaller patches. Synthesis and applications. We show that the effectiveness of spatial management is strongly driven by patterns of individual dispersal across landscapes. For species conservation planning, we advocate the use of models that incorporate adequate realism in demography and, particularly, in dispersal behaviours.
Project description:The conservation of species structured in metapopulations involves an important dilemma of resource allocation: should investments be directed at restoring/enlarging habitat patches or increasing connectivity. This is still an open question for Maculinea species despite they are among the best studied and emblematic butterfly species, because none of the population dynamics models developed so far included dispersal.We developed the first spatially and financially explicit Population Viability Analysis model for Maculinea alcon, using field data from The Netherlands. Implemented using the RAMAS/GIS platform, the model incorporated both local (contest density dependence, environmental and demographic stochasticities), and regional population dynamics (dispersal rates between habitat patches). We selected four habitat patch networks, contrasting in several basic features (number of habitat patches, their quality, connectivity, and occupancy rate) to test how these features are affecting the ability to enhance population viability of four basic management options, designed to incur the same costs: habitat enlargement, habitat quality improvement, creation of new stepping stone habitat patches, and reintroduction of captive-reared butterflies. The PVA model was validated by the close match between its predictions and independent field observations on the patch occupancy pattern. The four patch networks differed in their sensitivity to model parameters, as well as in the ranking of management options. Overall, the best cost-effective option was enlargement of existing habitat patches, followed by either habitat quality improvement or creation of stepping stones depending on the network features. Reintroduction was predicted to generally be inefficient, except in one specific patch network.Our results underline the importance of spatial and regional aspects (dispersal and connectivity) in determining the impact of conservation actions, even for a species previously considered as sedentary. They also illustrate that failure to account for the cost of management scenarios can lead to very different conclusions.
Project description:Anthropogenic habitat fragmentation has altered the distribution and population sizes in many organisms worldwide. For this reason, understanding the demographic and genetic consequences of this process is necessary to predict the fate of populations and establish management practices aimed to ensure their viability. In this study, we analyse whether the spatial configuration of remnant semi-natural habitat patches within a chronically fragmented landscape has shaped the patterns of genetic diversity and structure in the habitat-specialist esparto grasshopper (Ramburiella hispanica). In particular, we predict that agricultural lands constitute barriers to gene flow and hypothesize that fragmentation has restricted interpopulation dispersal and reduced local levels of genetic diversity. Our results confirmed the expectation that isolation and habitat fragmentation have reduced the genetic diversity of local populations. Landscape genetic analyses based on circuit theory showed that agricultural land offers ?1000 times more resistance to gene flow than semi-natural habitats, indicating that patterns of dispersal are constrained by the spatial configuration of remnant patches of suitable habitat. Overall, this study shows that semi-natural habitat patches act as corridors for interpopulation gene flow and should be preserved due to the disproportionately large ecological function that they provide considering their insignificant area within these human-modified landscapes.
Project description:We evaluated how differences between two empirical resistance models for the same geographic area affected predictions of gene flow processes and genetic diversity for the Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis lucida). The two resistance models represented the landscape under low- and high-fragmentation parameters. Under low fragmentation, the landscape had larger but highly concentrated habitat patches, whereas under high fragmentation, the landscape had smaller habitat patches that scattered across a broader area. Overall habitat amount differed little between resistance models. We tested eight scenarios reflecting a factorial design of three factors: resistance model (low vs. high fragmentation), isolation hypothesis (isolation-by-distance, IBD, vs. isolation-by-resistance, IBR), and dispersal limit of species (200 km vs. 300 km). Higher dispersal limit generally had a positive but small influence on genetic diversity. Genetic distance increased with both geographic distance and landscape resistance, but landscape resistance displayed a stronger influence. Connectivity was positively related to genetic diversity under IBR but was less important under IBD. Fragmentation had a strong negative influence on the spatial patterns of genetic diversity and effective population size (Ns). Despite habitats being more concentrated and less widely distributed, the low-fragmentation landscape had greater genetic diversity than the high-fragmentation landscape, suggesting that highly concentrated but larger habitat patches may provide a genetic refuge for the Mexican spotted owl.
Project description:Given the rapidly growing human population in mediterranean-climate systems, land use may pose a more immediate threat to biodiversity than climate change this century, yet few studies address the relative future impacts of both drivers. We assess spatial and temporal patterns of projected 21(st) century land use and climate change on California sage scrub (CSS), a plant association of considerable diversity and threatened status in the mediterranean-climate California Floristic Province. Using a species distribution modeling approach combined with spatially-explicit land use projections, we model habitat loss for 20 dominant shrub species under unlimited and no dispersal scenarios at two time intervals (early and late century) in two ecoregions in California (Central Coast and South Coast). Overall, projected climate change impacts were highly variable across CSS species and heavily dependent on dispersal assumptions. Projected anthropogenic land use drove greater relative habitat losses compared to projected climate change in many species. This pattern was only significant under assumptions of unlimited dispersal, however, where considerable climate-driven habitat gains offset some concurrent climate-driven habitat losses. Additionally, some of the habitat gained with projected climate change overlapped with projected land use. Most species showed potential northern habitat expansion and southern habitat contraction due to projected climate change, resulting in sharply contrasting patterns of impact between Central and South Coast Ecoregions. In the Central Coast, dispersal could play an important role moderating losses from both climate change and land use. In contrast, high geographic overlap in habitat losses driven by projected climate change and projected land use in the South Coast underscores the potential for compounding negative impacts of both drivers. Limiting habitat conversion may be a broadly beneficial strategy under climate change. We emphasize the importance of addressing both drivers in conservation and resource management planning.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Brazil's Atlantic Forest is a biodiversity hotspot endangered by severe habitat degradation and fragmentation. Habitat fragmentation is expected to reduce dispersal among habitat patches resulting in increased genetic differentiation among populations. Here we examined genetic diversity and differentiation among populations of two Heliconius butterfly species in the northern portion of Brazil's Atlantic Forest to estimate the potential impact of habitat fragmentation on population connectivity in butterflies with home-range behavior. RESULTS:We generated microsatellite, AFLP and mtDNA sequence data for 136 Heliconius erato specimens from eight collecting locations and 146 H. melpomene specimens from seven locations. Population genetic analyses of the data revealed high levels of genetic diversity in H. erato relative to H. melpomene, widespread genetic differentiation among populations of both species, and no evidence for isolation-by-distance. CONCLUSIONS:These results are consistent with the hypothesis that the extensive habitat fragmentation along Brazil's Atlantic Forest has reduced dispersal of Heliconius butterflies among neighboring habitat patches. The results also lend support to the observation that fine-scale population genetic structure may be common in Heliconius. If such population structure also exists independent of human activity, and has been common over the evolutionary history of Heliconius butterflies, it may have contributed to the evolution of wing pattern diversity in the genus.
Project description:Anthropogenic changes in land use and the extirpation of apex predators have facilitated explosive growth of mesopredator populations. Consequently, many species have been subjected to extensive control throughout portions of their range due to their integral role as generalist predators and reservoirs of zoonotic disease. Yet, few studies have monitored the effects of landscape composition or configuration on the demographic or behavioral response of mesopredators to population manipulation. During 2007 we removed 382 raccoons (Procyon lotor) from 30 forest patches throughout a fragmented agricultural ecosystem to test hypotheses regarding the effects of habitat isolation on population recovery and role of range expansion and dispersal in patch colonization of mesopredators in heterogeneous landscapes. Patches were allowed to recolonize naturally and demographic restructuring of patches was monitored from 2008-2010 using mark-recapture. An additional 25 control patches were monitored as a baseline measure of demography. After 3 years only 40% of experimental patches had returned to pre-removal densities. This stagnant recovery was driven by low colonization rates of females, resulting in little to no within-patch recruitment. Colonizing raccoons were predominantly young males, suggesting that dispersal, rather than range expansion, was the primary mechanism driving population recovery. Contrary to our prediction, neither landscape connectivity nor measured local habitat attributes influenced colonization rates, likely due to the high dispersal capability of raccoons and limited role of range expansion in patch colonization. Although culling is commonly used to control local populations of many mesopredators, we demonstrate that such practices create severe disruptions in population demography that may be counterproductive to disease management in fragmented landscapes due to an influx of dispersing males into depopulated areas. However, given the slow repopulation rates observed in our study, localized depopulation may be effective at reducing negative ecological impacts of mesopredators in fragmented landscapes at limited spatial and temporal scales.
Project description:The epidemiological dynamics of potentially free-living pathogens are often studied with respect to a specific pathogen species (e.g., cholera) and most studies concentrate only on host-pathogen interactions. Here we show that metacommunity-level interactions can alter conventional spatial disease dynamics. We introduce a pathogen eating consumer species and investigate a deterministic epidemiological model of two habitat patches, where both patches can be occupied by hosts, pathogens, and consumers of free-living pathogens. An isolated habitat patch shows periodic disease outbreaks in the host population, arising from cyclic consumer-pathogen dynamics. On the other hand, consumer dispersal between the patches generate asymmetric disease prevalence, such that the host population in one patch stays disease-free, while disease outbreaks occur in the other patch. Such asymmetry can also arise with host dispersal, where infected hosts carry pathogens to the other patch. This indirect movement of pathogens causes also a counter-intuitive effect: decreasing morbidity in a focal patch under increasing pathogen immigration. Our results underline that community-level interactions influence disease dynamics and consistent spatial asymmetry can arise also in spatially homogeneous systems.
Project description:Habitat loss and fragmentation are important factors determining animal population dynamics and spatial distribution. Such landscape changes can lead to the deleterious impact of a significant drop in the number of species, caused by critically reduced survival rates for organisms. In order to obtain a deeper understanding of the threeway interplay between habitat loss, fragmentation and survival rates, we propose here a spatially explicit multi-scaled movement model of individuals that search for habitat. By considering basic ecological processes, such as predation, starvation (outside the habitat area), and competition, together with dispersal movement as a link among habitat areas, we show that a higher survival rate is achieved in instances with a lower number of patches of larger areas. Our results demonstrate how movement may counterbalance the effects of habitat loss and fragmentation in altered landscapes. In particular, they have important implications for conservation planning and ecosystem management, including the design of specific features of conservation areas in order to enhance landscape connectivity and population viability.
Project description:We investigate the effect of habitat fragmentation on the genetic diversity of a species experiencing a range expansion. These two evolutionary processes have not been studied yet, at the same time, owing to the difficulties of deriving analytic results for non-equilibrium models. Here we provide a description of their interaction by using extensive spatial and temporal coalescent simulations and we suggest guidelines for a proper genetic sampling to detect fragmentation. To model habitat fragmentation, we simulated a two-dimensional lattice of demes partitioned into groups (patches) by adding barriers to dispersal. After letting a population expand on this grid, we sampled lineages from the lattice at several scales and studied their coalescent history. We find that in order to detect fragmentation, one needs to extensively sample at a local level rather than at a landscape level. This is because the gene genealogy of a scattered sample is less sensitive to the presence of genetic barriers. Considering the effect of temporal changes of fragmentation intensities, we find that at least 10, but often >100, generations are needed to affect local genetic diversity and population structure. This result explains why recent habitat fragmentation does not always lead to detectable signatures in the genetic structure of populations. Finally, as expected, long-distance dispersal increases local genetic diversity and decreases levels of population differentiation, efficiently counteracting the effects of fragmentation.
Project description:Poor dispersal species represent conservative benchmarks for biodiversity management because they provide insights into ecological processes influenced by habitat fragmentation that are less evident in more dispersive organisms. Here we used the poorly dispersive and threatened river blackfish (Gadopsis marmoratus) as a surrogate indicator system for assessing the effects of fragmentation in highly modified river basins and for prioritizing basin-wide management strategies. We combined individual, population and landscape-based approaches to analyze genetic variation in samples spanning the distribution of the species in Australia's Murray-Darling Basin, one of the world's most degraded freshwater systems. Our results indicate that G. marmoratus displays the hallmark of severe habitat fragmentation with notably scattered, small and demographically isolated populations with very low genetic diversity-a pattern found not only between regions and catchments but also between streams within catchments. By using hierarchically nested population sampling and assessing relationships between genetic uniqueness and genetic diversity across populations, we developed a spatial management framework that includes the selection of populations in need of genetic rescue. Landscape genetics provided an environmental criterion to identify associations between landscape features and ecological processes. Our results further our understanding of the impact that habitat quality and quantity has on habitat specialists with similarly low dispersal. They should also have practical applications for prioritizing both large- and small-scale conservation management actions for organisms inhabiting highly fragmented ecosystems.