Is the matrix a sea? Habitat specificity in a naturally fragmented landscape


*Don A. Driscoll, School of Biological Sciences, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide SA 5001, Australia. E-mail:


Abstract.  1. Metapopulation and island biogeography theory assume that landscapes consist of habitat patches set in a matrix of non-habitat. If only a small proportion of species conform to the patch–matrix assumptions then metapopulation theory may only describe special cases rather than being of more general ecological importance.

2. As an initial step towards understanding the prevalence of metapopulation dynamics in a naturally fragmented landscape, the distribution of beetle species in three replicates of three habitat types was examined, including rainforest and eucalypt forest (the habitat patches), and buttongrass sedgeland (the matrix), in south-west Tasmania, Australia.

3. Ordination methods indicated that the buttongrass fauna was extremely divergent from the fauna of forested habitats. Permutation tests showed that the abundance of 13 of 17 commonly captured species varied significantly among habitats, with eight species confined to eucalypts or rainforest, and three species found only in buttongrass. Approximately 60% of species were confined to forested habitat implying that metapopulation theory has the potential to be very important in the forest–buttongrass landscape.

4. Although floristically the rainforest and eucalypts were extremely distinct, the beetle faunas from eucalypts and rainforests overlapped substantially. Therefore rainforest patches connected by eucalypt forest represent continuous habitat for most species.

5. Other studies report a wide range of values for the proportion of patch-specific species in fragmented landscapes. Understanding the environmental or historical conditions under which a high proportion of species become patch specialists would help to identify where spatial dynamic theory may be especially applicable, and where habitat loss and fragmentation poses the greatest threat to biodiversity.