Connectivity among demes in a metapopulation depends on both the landscape's and the focal organism's properties (including its mobility and cognitive abilities). Using individual-based simulations, we contrast the consequences of three different cognitive strategies on several measures of metapopulation connectivity. Model animals search suitable habitat patches while dispersing through a model landscape made of cells varying in size, shape, attractiveness and friction. In the blind strategy, the next cell is chosen randomly among the adjacent ones. In the near-sighted strategy, the choice depends on the relative attractiveness of these adjacent cells. In the far- sighted strategy, animals may additionally target suitable patches that appear within their perceptual range.
Simulations show that the blind strategy provides the best overall connectivity, and results in balanced dispersal. The near-sighted strategy traps animals into corridors that reduce the number of potential targets, thereby fragmenting metapopulations in several local clusters of demes, and inducing sink–source dynamics. This sort of local trapping is somewhat prevented in the far-sighted strategy. The colonization success of strategies depends highly on initial energy reserves: blind does best when energy is high, near-sighted wins at intermediate levels, and far-sighted outcompetes its rivals at low energy reserves.
We also expect strong effects in terms of metapopulation genetics: the blind strategy generates a migrant-pool mode of dispersal that should erase local structures. By contrast, near- and far-sighted strategies generate a propagule-pool mode of dispersal and source–sink behavior that should boost structures (high genetic variance among- and low variance within local clusters of demes), particularly if metapopulation dynamics is also affected by extinction–colonization processes.
Our results thus point to important effects of the cognitive ability of dispersers on the connectivity, dynamics and genetics of metapopulations.