Variation in metapopulation dynamics of a wetland mammal: The effect of hydrology

Jorista Van Der Merwi, Eric C. Hellgren, Eric M. Schauber, D. P.C. Peters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Key factors affecting metapopulation dynamics of animals include patch size, isolation, and patch quality. For wetland-associated species, hydrology can affect patch availability, connectivity, and potentially habitat quality; and therefore drive metapopulation dynamics. Wetlands occurring on natural river floodplains typically have more dynamic hydrology than anthropogenic wetlands. Our overall objective was to assess the multiyear spatial and temporal variation in occupancy and turnover rates of a semi-aquatic small mammal at two hydrologically distinct wetland complexes. We live-trapped marsh rice rats (Oryzomys palustris) for 3 yr and >50 000 trap nights at nine wetland patches on the Mississippi River floodplain and 14 patches at a reclaimed surface mine in southern Illinois. We used dynamic occupancy modeling to estimate initial occupancy, detection, colonization, and extinction rates at each complex. Catch per unit effort (rice rats captured/1000 trap nights) was markedly higher at the floodplain site (28.1) than the mining site (8.1). We found no evidence that temperature, rainfall, or trapping effort affected detection probability. Probability of initial occupancy was similar between sites and positively related to patch size. Patch colonization probability at both sites was related negatively to total rainfall 3 weeks prior to trapping, and varied across years differently at each site. We found interacting effects of site and rainfall on extinction probability: extinction increased with total rainfall 3 months prior to trapping but markedly more at the floodplain site than at the mining site. These site-specific patterns of colonization and extinction are consistent with the rice rat metapopulation in the floodplain exhibiting a habitat-tracking dynamic (occupancy dynamics driven by fluctuating quality), whereas the mineland complex behaved more as a classic metapopulation (stochastic colonization & extinction). Our study supports previous work demonstrating metapopulation dynamics in wetland systems being driven by changes in patch quality (via hydrology) rather than solely area and isolation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01275
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Colonization
  • Extinction
  • Hydrology
  • Metapopulation
  • Occupancy
  • Oryzomys palustris
  • Patch
  • Rice rats

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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