Habitat colonization and abandonment affects the distribution of a species in space and time, ultimately influencing the duration of time habitat is used and the total area of habitat occupied in any given year. Both aspects have important implications to long-term conservation planning. The importance of patch isolation and area to colonization-extinction events is well studied, but little information exists on how changing regional landscape structure and population dynamics influences the variability in the timing of patch colonization and abandonment events. We used 26 years of Kirtland's Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii) population data taken during a habitat restoration program (1979-2004) across its historical breeding range to examine the influence of patch attributes and temporal large-scale processes, specifically the rate of habitat turnover and fraction of occupied patches, on the year-to-year timing of patch colonization and abandonment since patch origin. We found the timing of patch colonization and abandonment was influenced by patch and large-scale regional factors. In this system, larger patches were typically colonized earlier (i.e., at a younger age) and abandoned later than smaller patches. Isolated patches (i.e., patches farther from another occupied patch) were generally colonized later and abandoned earlier. Patch habitat type affected colonization and abandonment; colonization occurred at similar patch ages between plantation and wildfire areas (9 and 8.5 years, respectively), but plantations were abandoned at earlier ages (13.9 years) than wildfire areas (16.4 years) resulting in shorter use. As the fraction of occupied patches increased, patches were colonized and abandoned at earlier ages. Patches were abandoned at older ages when the influx of new habitat patches was at low and high rates. Our results provide empirical support for the temporal influence of patch dynamics (i.e., patch destruction, creation, and succession) on local colonization and extinction processes that help explain large-scale patterns of habitat occupancy. Results highlight the need for practitioners to consider the timing of habitat restoration as well as total amount and spatial arrangement of habitat to sustain populations.
Additional publication details
Patch dynamics and the timing of colonization-abandonment events by male Kirtland's Warblers in an early succession habitat