Habitat loss and fragmentation can negatively influence population persistence and biodiversity, but the effects can be mitigated if species successfully disperse between isolated habitat patches. Network models are the primary tool for quantifying landscape connectivity, yet in practice, an overly simplistic view of species dispersal is applied. These models often ignore individual variation in dispersal ability under the assumption that all individuals move the same fixed distance with equal probability. We developed a modeling approach to address this problem. We incorporated dispersal kernels into network models to determine how individual variation in dispersal alters understanding of landscape-level connectivity and implemented our approach on a fragmented grassland landscape in Minnesota. Ignoring dispersal variation consistently overestimated a population's robustness to local extinctions and underestimated its robustness to local habitat loss. Furthermore, a simplified view of dispersal underestimated the amount of habitat substructure for small populations but overestimated habitat substructure for large populations. Our results demonstrate that considering biologically realistic dispersal alters understanding of landscape connectivity in ecological theory and conservation practice.
Sullivan LL, Michalska-Smith MJ, Sperry KP, Moeller DA, Shaw AK. (2020). Consequences of ignoring dispersal variation in network models for landscape connectivity. Conservation biology : the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology