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Landscape-scale dynamics of a threatened species respond to local-scale conservation management

Cite this dataset

Jones, Rachel; Bourn, Nigel; Maclean, Ilya; Wilson, Robert (2022). Landscape-scale dynamics of a threatened species respond to local-scale conservation management [Dataset]. Dryad.


Landscape-scale approaches are increasingly advocated for species conservation but ensuring landscape level persistence by enlarging the size of patches or increasing their physical connectivity is often impractical.  Here, we test how such barriers can be overcome by management of habitat at the local (site-based) level, using a rare butterfly as an exemplar. We used four surveys of the entire UK distribution of the Lulworth Skipper (Thymelicus acteon) over 40 years to test how local habitat influences population density and colonization / extinction dynamics, and parameterized, validated and applied a metapopulation model to simulate effects of varying local habitat quality on regional persistence. We found the total number of populations in four distribution snapshots between 1978 and 2017 varied between 59–84, and from 1997 to 2017, 34% of local populations showed turnover (colonization or extinction). Population density was closely linked to vegetation characteristics indicative of management, namely height and food plant frequency, both of which changed through time. Simulating effects of habitat quality on metapopulation dynamics 40 years into the future suggests coordinated changes to two key components of quality (vegetation height and food plant frequency) would increase patch occupancy above the range observed in the past 40 years (50–80%). In contrast, deterioration of either component below threshold levels leads to metapopulation retraction to core sub-networks of patches, or eventual extirpation. Our results indicate that changes to habitat quality can overcome constraints imposed by habitat patch area and spatial location on relative rates of colonization and local extinction, demonstrating the sensitivity of regional dynamics to targeted in situ management. Local habitat management therefore plays a key role in landscape-scale conservation.  Monitoring of population density, and the monitoring and management of local (site-level) habitat quality, therefore represent effective and important components of conservation strategies in fragmented landscapes.


Natural Environment Research Council, Award: NE/N00857X/1