The roles of dispersal and population dynamics in determining species' range boundaries recently have received theoretical attention but little empirical work. Here we provide data on survival, reproduction, and movement for a Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) population at a local distributional edge in central Massachusetts (USA). Most juvenile females that apparently exploited anthropogenic resources survived their first winter, whereas those using adjacent natural resources died of starvation. In spring, adult females recolonized natural areas. A life-table model suggests that a population exploiting anthropogenic resources may grow, acting as source to a geographically interlaced sink of opossums using only natural resources, and also providing emigrants for further range expansion to new human-dominated landscapes. In a geographical model, this source-sink dynamic is consistent with the local distribution identified through road-kill surveys. The Virginia opossum's exploitation of human resources likely ameliorates energetically restrictive winters and may explain both their local distribution and their northward expansion in unsuitable natural climatic regimes. Landscape heterogeneity, such as created by urbanization, may result in source-sink dynamics at highly localized scales. Differential fitness and individual dispersal movements within local populations are key to generating regional distributions, and thus species ranges, that exceed expectations. ?? 2009 by the Ecological Society of America.
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Seasonal source-sink dynamics at the edge of a species' range