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The relative contribution of local habitat and landscape context to metapopulation processes: a dynamic occupancy modeling approach

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Changes in site occupancy across habitat patches have often been attributed to landscape features in fragmented systems, particularly when considering metapopulations. However, failure to include habitat quality of individual patches can mask the relative importance of local scale features in determining distributional changes. We employed dynamic occupancy modeling to compare the strength of local habitat variables and metrics of landscape patterns as drivers of metapopulation dynamics for a vulnerable, high‐elevation species in a naturally fragmented landscape. Repeat surveys of Bicknell's thrush Catharus bicknelli presence/non‐detection were conducted at 88 sites across Vermont, USA in 2006 and 2007. We used an organism‐based approach, such that at each site we measured important local‐scale habitat characteristics and quantified landscape‐scale features using a predictive habitat model for this species. We performed a principal component analysis on both the local and landscape features to reduce dimensionality. We estimated site occupancy, colonization, and extinction probabilities while accounting for imperfect detection. Univariate, additive, and interaction models of local habitat and landscape context were ranked using AICc scores. Both local and landscape scales were important in determining changes in occupancy patterns. An interaction between scales was detected for occupancy dynamics indicating that the relationship of the parameters to local‐scale habitat conditions can change depending on the landscape context and vice versa. An increase in both landscape‐ and local‐scale habitat quality increased occupancy and colonization probability while decreasing extinction risk. Colonization and extinction were both more strongly influenced by local habitat quality relative to landscape patterns. We also identified clear, qualitative thresholds for landscape‐scale features. Conservation of large habitat patches in high‐cover landscapes will help ensure persistence of Bicknell's thrushes, but only if local scale habitat quality is maintained. Our results highlight the importance of incorporating information beyond landscape characteristics when investigating patch occupancy patterns in metapopulations.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State Univ., Corvallis, OR 97331, USA

Publication date: July 1, 2012

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