How patch configuration affects the impact of disturbances on metapopulation persistence
Disturbances affect metapopulations directly through reductions in population size and indirectly through habitat modification. We consider how metapopulation persistence is affected by different disturbance regimes and the way in which disturbances spread, when metapopulations are compact or elongated, using a stochastic spatially explicit model which includes metapopulation and habitat dynamics. We discover that the risk of population extinction is larger for spatially aggregated disturbances than for spatially random disturbances. By changing the spatial configuration of the patches in the system—leading to different proportions of edge and interior patches—we demonstrate that the probability of metapopulation extinction is smaller when the metapopulation is more compact. Both of these results become more pronounced when colonization connectivity decreases. Our results have important management implication as edge patches, which are invariably considered to be less important, may play an important role as disturbance refugia.