Environment, but not migration rate, influences extinction risk in experimental metapopulations.


Ecological theory suggests that several demographic factors influence metapopulation extinction risk, including synchrony in population size between subpopulations, metapopulation size and the magnitude of fluctuations in population size. Theoretically, each of these is influenced by the rate of migration between subpopulations. Here we report on an experiment where we manipulated migration rate within metapopulations of the freshwater zooplankton Daphnia magna to examine how migration influenced each of these demographic variables, and subsequent effects on metapopulation extinction. In addition, our experimental procedures introduced unplanned but controlled differences between metapopulations in light intensity, enabling us to examine the relative influences of environmental and demographic factors. We found that increasing migration rate increased subpopulation synchrony. We failed to detect effects of migration on population size and fluctuations in population size at the metapopulation or subpopulation level, however. In contrast, light intensity did not influence synchrony, but was positively correlated with population size and negatively correlated with population fluctuation. Finally, synchrony did not influence time to extinction, while population size and the magnitude of fluctuations did. We conclude that environmental factors had a greater influence on extinction risk than demographic factors, and that metapopulation size and fluctuation were more important to extinction risk than metapopulation synchrony.

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