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Applying Metapopulation Theory to Conservation of Migratory Birds

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Metapopulation theory has proven useful for understanding the population structure and dynamics of many species of conservation concern. The metapopulation concept has been applied almost exclusively to nonmigratory species, however, for which subpopulation demographic independence—a requirement for a classically defined metapopulation—is explicitly related to geographic distribution and dispersal probabilities. Defining the degree of demographic independence among subpopulations of migratory animals, and thus the applicability of metapopulation theory as a conceptual framework for understanding population dynamics, is much more difficult. Unlike nonmigratory species, subpopulations of migratory animals cannot be defined as synonymous with geographic areas. Groups of migratory birds that are geographically separate at one part of the annual cycle may occur together at others, but co-occurrence in time and space does not preclude the demographic independence of subpopulations. I suggest that metapopulation theory can be applied to migratory species but that understanding the degree of subpopulation independence may require information about both spatial distribution throughout the annual cycle and behavioral mechanisms that may lead to subpopulation demographic independence. The key for applying metapopulation theory to migratory animals lies in identifying demographically independent subpopulations, even as they move during the annual cycle and potentially co-occur with other subpopulations. Using examples of migratory bird species, I demonstrate that spatial and temporal modes of subpopulation independence can interact with behavioral mechanisms to create demographically independent subpopulations, including cases in which subpopulations are not spatially distinct in some parts of the annual cycle.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Alaska Biological Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey, 1011 E. Tudor Road, Anchorage, AK 99503, U.S.A.,

Publication date: April 1, 2000

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