This material is published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd in D. W. Macdonald & K. Service, Eds (2007) Key Topics in Conservation Biology. Chapter 5, pp 64-84. ISBN: 1405122498.

The Role of Metapopulations in Conservation.

H. Resit Akçakaya, Gus Mills, and C. Patrick Doncaster

Wherever wildlife management concerns the movement of individuals across structured habitat, its scale of operations will encompass metapopulation dynamics. The goal of this chapter is to review the potential applications of metapopulation concepts and models in reserve design and conservation management. Our perspective is forward-looking. We show how some key problems of where to direct conservation effort and how to manage populations can be addressed in the context of regional habitat structure and the survival and renewal of habitat patches. We also mention several cases of successful metapopulation management and point out practical problems. We emphasise (1) that the viability of a population may depend on surrounding populations, in which case metapopulation processes influence or determine reserve design and management options; (2) that understanding the dynamic processes requires models, which make assumptions that need validating; (3) that the principle limitation of metapopulation models is their single-species focus. Conservation strategies clearly depend on the particular social, economic and ecological circumstances of each region, and concepts such as the metapopulation can seem irrelevant to practical concerns. We aim to show, nevertheless, that an understanding of metapopulation dynamics can be vital to asking pertinent questions and seeking potential solutions. The conceptual framework of metapopulation dynamics tells us what information is needed in order to build case-specific models relevant to any of a wide range of issues. These issues include the potential disadvantages of habitat corridors, or hidden benefits of sink habitat; the optimal schedule for translocations or reintroductions; the relative merits of reducing local extinctions against increasing colonisations; the optimum distribution of habitat improvement; and the advantages of increasing life spans of ephemeral habitats.

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