Aims To test a new concept for island ecology and metapopulation studies: if population persistence is a result of colonization and extinction processes, one would expect remarkable variability in the age of neighbouring populations – there would be both old and young (recently established) populations.
Location The lake Mamry archipelago, Poland.
Methods Forty trap transects with a total of 114 Barber traps were operating from June to September in 1997 and in 1998. The traps (0.5-L plastic beakers, mouth diameter 120 mm, with a 20 × 20 cm wooden roof) were placed by applying a stratified sampling design into 13 habitat types on the 16 islands and two mainland sites. The frequency of macropterous individuals in wing-dimorphic populations of three carabid species (Pterostichus melanarius, P. anthracinus and Carabus granulatus) was used as an indicator of population ‘age’.
Results The frequency of macropterous individuals in the populations varied from 0% to 100% for P. melanarius (18.5% on average), from 0% to 91% for P. anthracinus (12.6%) and from 0% to 29% for C. granulatus (8.9%). Populations hosted more long-winged individuals (and were therefore interpreted as being younger) on smaller islands, compared with those inhabiting large islands and the mainland sites. The results also revealed that the viability of the populations of the autumn-breeding P. melanarius might be more affected by population size than that of the two studied spring breeders. Island connectivity did not have a significant effect on the frequency of macropterous individuals in the studied populations.
Main conclusions The inverse relationship between the proportion of macropterous individuals and island size contrasts with the accepted theory of dispersal, which assumes that there is selection against dispersal on small islands. A regression analysis for population age and habitat characteristics reveals the extinction probability of a given population. I suggest that investigations based on variability in population age can help in studies of colonization–extinction processes that would otherwise face logistic and methodological obstacles.
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