The metapopulation paradigm: a fragmented view of conservation biology

Cambridge University Press
Publication Type:
Genetics, Demography and Viaability of Fragmented Populations, 2000, 4, pp. 75 - 95
Issue Date:
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In the past, single-population approaches have dominated ecology and evolutionary biology. However, populations are not isolated either in time or space, but are connected by among-population processes such as migration and gene flow.While this concept is not new, until recently, there have beenrelatively few studies that have explicitly investigated the effects od spatial structure on demographic and genetic processes in the context of conservation. The metapopulation framework explicitly recognises and provides a conceptual tool for dealing with the interactions of within - (e.g. birth, death, competition) and among-population processes (e.g. dispersal, gene flow, colonisation and extinction). The ever-growing diversity of empirical and theoretical studies that demonstrate the importance of spatial structure in determining ecological and evolutionary trajectories also indicates that long-term conservation programmes need to focus on regional rather than local within-population persistence. In this regard, it is important to realise that ultimately all populations are ephemeral, and therefore colonisation processes must also be preserved. Clearly, not all species whose populations have undergone fragmentation fit the definition of a metapopulation. Nevertheless, a metapopulation approach to conservation biology is likely to provide a useful tool for developing management strategies as it addresses genetic, species and community effects of fragmentation in a single framework, therby making explicit questions regarding extinction, population connectedness, species behavioural patterns and the survival of coevolved systems. In essence, a metapopulation perspective ensures a process oriented, scale-appropriate approach to conservation that focuses attention on among-population processes critical for persistence of many natural systems.
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