Colonization and Extinction in Dynamic Habitats: An Occupancy Approach for a Great Plains Stream Fish Assemblage
Despite the importance of habitat in determining species distribution and persistence, habitat dynamics are rarely modeled in studies of metapopulations. We used an integrated habitat–occupancy model to simultaneously quantify habitat change, site fidelity, and local colonization and extinction rates for larvae of a suite of Great Plains stream fishes in the Arikaree River, eastern Colorado, USA, across three years.
Sites were located along a gradient of flow intermittency and groundwater connectivity. Hydrology varied across years: the first and third being relatively wet and the second dry. Despite hydrologic variation, our results indicated that site suitability was random from one year to the next. Occupancy probabilities were also independent of previous habitat and occupancy state for most species, indicating little site fidelity. Climate and groundwater connectivity were important drivers of local extinction and colonization, but the importance of groundwater differed between periods.
Across species, site extinction probabilities were highest during the transition from wet to dry conditions (range: 0.52–0.98), and the effect of groundwater was apparent with higher extinction probabilities for sites not fed by groundwater. Colonization probabilities during this period were relatively low for both previously dry sites (range: 0.02–0.38) and previously wet sites (range: 0.02–0.43).
In contrast, no sites dried or remained dry during the transition from dry to wet conditions, yielding lower but still substantial extinction probabilities (range: 0.16–0.63) and higher colonization probabilities (range: 0.06–0.86), with little difference among sites with and without groundwater. This approach of jointly modeling both habitat change and species occupancy will likely be useful to incorporate effects of dynamic habitat on metapopulation processes and to better inform appropriate conservation actions.