Are spatially correlated or uncorrelated disturbance regimes better for the survival of species?


  • Karin Johst,

  • Martin Drechsler

K. Johst and M. Drechsler, UFZ-Centre for Environmental Research Leipzig-Halle Dept of Ecological Modelling, P.O. Box 500135, DE-04301 Leipzig, Germany (


The survival of species in dynamic landscapes (characterised by patch destruction and subsequent regeneration) depends on both the species’ attributes and the disturbance pattern. Using a spatially explicit model we explored how the mean time to extinction of a metapopulation depends on the spatial correlation of patch destruction in relation to the population growth and dispersal abilities of species. Two contrasting answers are possible. On the one hand, increasing spatial correlation of patch destruction increases the spatial correlation of population growth and this is known to decrease metapopulation persistence. On the other hand, spatially correlated patch destruction and regeneration can lead to clustered habitat patches and this is known to increase metapopulation persistence. Therefore, we hypothesised that some species are better off under spatially correlated and alternatively uncorrelated disturbance regimes. However, contrary to this hypothesis, in all kinds of cases spatial correlation reduced metapopulation persistence. We found this to be due to the fact that the spatial correlation of patch destruction causes increasing temporal fluctuations in the regional carrying capacity of the metapopulation and is hence generally disadvantageous for long-term persistence. The main consequence for conservation biology is that reducing spatial correlation in disturbances is likely to be a reliable strategy in a dynamic landscape that will benefit practically all species with a low risk of adverse side effects.