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Metapopulation Ecology

  1. Saskya van Nouhuys

Published Online: 15 DEC 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0021905



How to Cite

van Nouhuys, S. 2009. Metapopulation Ecology. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 DEC 2009


A metapopulation is a spatially structured population that persists over time as a set of local populations in balance between local extinction and colonization. Starting in 1969, and accelerating since the early 1990s, mathematical models of metapopulations have shown the importance of landscape connectivity and dispersal for persistence of a species or of interacting species. Some metapopulation models have been fit to empirical data. Although pure metapopulations may be rare, there are many empirical studies in which metapopulation processes, primarily local colonization and extinction, have been useful in explaining dynamics of natural and experimental systems. Metapopulation ecology is used in conservation biology and in population genetics where it influences genetic structure, the rate and trajectory of evolution and even what traits are under selection. Finally, communities of species that are distributed in a landscape potentially form metacommunity, which is a concept that shares important characteristics with metapopulations.

Key concepts:

  • A metapopulation is made up of semiindependent local populations.

  • In a metapopulation there is interplay between local and regional population dynamics.

  • While few species may live as metapopulations in the strict sense, many species depend on metapopulation processes. That is, a species regional persistence depends on asynchronous local dynamics and dispersal.

  • Predator–prey and competitive interactions may persist on a landscape scale due to metapopulation processes.


  • conservation;
  • metacommunity;
  • population dynamics;
  • population ecology;
  • population genetics;
  • spatial ecology