Abstract. 1. Metapopulation dynamics should be more important at the borders of species distributions due to two main factors: (1) populations are less abundant and fluctuate more at the borders than in the centre of their distributions, and (2) resources in the range margins of species distributions are often more scarce and fragmented.
2. Most metapopulation studies have been performed in a fraction of the entire distribution of species. The main goal here is to study the population dynamics of a narrowly distributed species including both the borders and the centre of the distribution, and to test the predictions described above.
3. The density and extinction events in a patchily distributed species, Timarcha lugens, was quantified for 5 years along an altitudinal gradient including the upper and lower limits of the species distribution. The dispersal ability of Timarcha was also studied using a mark–release–recapture study.
4. Extinction events and empty patches were only found at the borders of Timarcha distribution. The fluctuation in beetle density was greater in patches suffering extinction events. Resource abundance was negatively related to beetle density and positively related to extinction events. In addition, the dispersal rate among patches was very low and beetles moved distances of no further than 25 m.
5. Population density governs the extinction events in this system, and its fluctuation was more evident near the border of the distribution. Both factors together with the relative population stability in patches at medium and high altitudes, and the low dispersal rate of the individuals support the idea of a source–sink metapopulation structure in T. lugens.