• asynchrony;
  • conservation;
  • discrete local populations;
  • dispersal;
  • population turnover;
  • vacant habitats


  • 1
    The metapopulation metaphor is increasingly used to explain the spatial dynamics of animal populations. However, metapopulation structure is difficult to identify in long-lived species that are widely distributed in stochastic environments, where they can resist extinctions. The literature on mammals may not provide supporting evidence for classic metapopulation dynamics, which call for the availability of discrete habitat patches, asynchrony in local population dynamics, evidence for extinction and colonization processes, and dispersal between local populations.
  • 2
    Empirical evidence for metapopulation structure among mammals may exist when applying more lenient criteria. To meet these criteria, mammals should live in landscapes as discrete local breeding populations, and their demography should be asynchronous.
  • 3
    We examined the literature for empirical evidence in support of the classical criteria set by Hanski (1999), and for the more lenient subset of criteria proposed by Elmhagen & Angerbjörn (2001). We suggest circumstances where metapopulation theory could be important in understanding population processes in mammals of different body sizes.
  • 4
    The patchy distribution of large (>100 kg) mammals and dispersal often motivate inferences in support of a metapopulation structure. Published studies seldom address the full suite of classical criteria. However, studies on small mammals are more likely to record classic metapopulation criteria than those on large mammals. The slow turnover rate that is typical for medium-sized and large mammals apparently makes it difficult to identify a metapopulation structure during studies of short duration.
  • 5
    To identify a metapopulation structure, studies should combine the criteria set by Hanski (1999) and Elmhagen & Angerbjörn (2001). Mammals frequently live in fragmented landscapes, and processes involved in the maintenance of a metapopulation structure should be considered in conservation planning and management.