Colonization in metapopulations: a review of theory and observations



In metapopulation dynamics turnover of populations in isolated patches may be frequent. Regional survival of a species in such a system with frequent extinctions hinges on its colonization ability. Colonization is more than just dispersal; when a propagule reaches a new patch it faces higher extinction probabilities than does an established population. Extinction models as well as empirical data suggest that a large propagule with a potential for rapid increase in a varying environment, or with a low mortality rate in an environment perceived as constant, has a higher probability of successful colonization. Large variation in population size when it is still small increases the risk of failure. Factors introducing such variation are demographic stochasticity and environmental variation. It is hard to single out demographic traits that ensure good colonizing ability, since colonization can be achieved in many different ways, but generalists and species with self-fertilization seem to be superior.