Abstract 1. Despite widespread acceptance of metapopulation theory, the effects that inter-patch dispersal and variability in patch size have on metapopulation dynamics in insects are two issues that require further study. In addition, previous studies of metapopulations have tended to focus on organisms with high dispersal capabilities such as some species of butterfly and bird.
2. Mountain stone weta Hemideina maori are a long-lived, flightless orthopteran that live on island rock outcrops or tors in the alpine region of southern New Zealand. A total of 480 adults and 789 juveniles was marked over three seasons on four large and 14 small tors to assess the effects of habitat fragmentation on the population dynamics of H. maori.
3. Only 12 adults (2.5% of marked adults and 4.0% of recaptured adults) and two juveniles (0.3% of marked juveniles and 0.7% of recaptured juveniles) dispersed between tors. The mean dispersal distance was 361 m (range = 36–672 m). Larger tors supported larger populations and had a higher number of emigrants and immigrants while smaller tors had proportionally higher emigration and immigration rates. Although adults on large and small tors had similar mean lifespans, five extinction events and three recolonisation events occurred during the study period, all on small tors.
4. Hemideina maori conform to many of the predictions of metapopulation theory even though they are flightless, show relatively low dispersal rates, and occur at low densities. Extinction and colonisation events are more common on small tors but may be relatively unimportant for the long-term survival of the metapopulation because they occur on the smallest habitat patches, which support the smallest proportion of the overall population.