Spatial occupancy models for predicting metapopulation dynamics and viability following reintroduction

Journal of Applied Ecology
By: , and 



  1. The reintroduction of a species into its historic range is a critical component of conservation programmes designed to restore extirpated metapopulations. However, many reintroduction efforts fail, and the lack of rigorous monitoring programmes and statistical models have prevented a general understanding of the factors affecting metapopulation viability following reintroduction.
  2. Spatially explicit metapopulation theory provides the basis for understanding the dynamics of fragmented populations linked by dispersal, but the theory has rarely been used to guide reintroduction programmes because most spatial metapopulation models require presence–absence data from every site in the network, and they do not allow for observation error such as imperfect detection.
  3. We develop a spatial occupancy model that relaxes these restrictive assumptions and allows for inference about metapopulation extinction risk and connectivity. We demonstrate the utility of the model using six years of data on the Chiricahua leopard frogLithobates chiricahuensis, a threatened desert-breeding amphibian that was reintroduced to a network of sites in Arizona USA in 2003.
  4. Our results indicate that the model can generate precise predictions of extinction risk and produce connectivity maps that can guide conservation efforts following reintroduction. In the case of L. chiricahuensis, many sites were functionally isolated, and 82% of sites were characterized by intermittent water availability and high local extinction probabilities (0·84, 95% CI: 0·64–0·99). However, under the current hydrological conditions and spatial arrangement of sites, the risk of metapopulation extinction is estimated to be <3% over a 50-year time horizon.
  5. Low metapopulation extinction risk appears to result from the high dispersal capability of the species, the high density of sites in the region and the existence of predator-free permanent wetlands with low local extinction probabilities. Should management be required, extinction risk can be reduced by either increasing the hydroperiod of existing sites or by creating new sites to increase connectivity.
  6. Synthesis and applications. This work demonstrates how spatio-temporal statistical models based on ecological theory can be applied to forecast the outcomes of conservation actions such as reintroduction. Our spatial occupancy model should be particularly useful when management agencies lack the funds to collect intensive individual-level data.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Spatial occupancy models for predicting metapopulation dynamics and viability following reintroduction
Series title Journal of Applied Ecology
DOI 10.1111/1365-2664.12481
Volume 52
Issue 5
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description 9 p.
First page 1325
Last page 1333
Country Mexico, United States
State Arizona, New Mexico
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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