Despite increasing awareness of the theoretical importance of habitat dynamics on metapopulations, only a few empirical studies have been conducted. We aimed to increase our understanding of how patch size, dynamics and connectivity affect colonization–extinction dynamics and the occurrence patterns of a beetle (Stephanopachys linearis), which breeds only in burned trees, existing as dynamic habitat patches that have become rare in managed forest landscapes. We assessed species’ presence/absence twice in all known habitat patches (i.e. > 1 ha sites where forest fires had occurred during the previous 2–15 yr) in a 200 × 150 km region of central Sweden, dominated by managed boreal forest.
Evaluated over six years, the colonization rate was 47% and the local extinction risk was 65%. Probability of colonization increased with patch size (number of suitable trees in a site) and connectivity to occupied patches within 30 km, and decreased with increasing time since fire. Local extinction risk decreased with habitat patch size but increased, unexpectedly, with connectivity. Occurrence increased with patch size and decreased with increasing time since fire. At a regional scale, S. linearis tracks the fire dynamics by colonising sites with burned trees and by becoming extinct at rates which make the species rare at sites where burnt trees are more than eight years old. In managed boreal forest landscapes, a large proportion of sites may be created by prescribed burning (in our study area: 82%), and consequently human decisions strongly affect the future amount of habitat for fire-dependent species and its spatial distribution. Stephanopachys linearis uses burned sites more often if more trees are retained and, to some extent, if sites are concentrated in those parts of a region that already support high population densities of the species.