Indexed on: 30 Nov '11Published on: 30 Nov '11Published in: PloS one
The total amount of native vegetation is an important property of fragmented landscapes and is known to exert a strong influence on population and metapopulation dynamics. As the relationship between habitat loss and local patch and gap characteristics is strongly non-linear, theoretical models predict that immigration rates should decrease dramatically at low levels of remaining native vegetation cover, leading to patch-area effects and the existence of species extinction thresholds across fragmented landscapes with different proportions of remaining native vegetation. Although empirical patterns of species distribution and richness give support to these models, direct measurements of immigration rates across fragmented landscapes are still lacking.Using the Brazilian Atlantic forest marsupial Gray Slender Mouse Opossum (Marmosops incanus) as a model species and estimating demographic parameters of populations in patches situated in three landscapes differing in the total amount of remaining forest, we tested the hypotheses that patch-area effects on population density are apparent only at intermediate levels of forest cover, and that immigration rates into forest patches are defined primarily by landscape context surrounding patches. As expected, we observed a positive patch-area effect on M. incanus density only within the landscape with intermediate forest cover. Density was independent of patch size in the most forested landscape and the species was absent from the most deforested landscape. Specifically, the mean estimated numbers of immigrants into small patches were lower in the landscape with intermediate forest cover compared to the most forested landscape.Our results reveal the crucial importance of the total amount of remaining native vegetation for species persistence in fragmented landscapes, and specifically as to the role of variable immigration rates in providing the underlying mechanism that drives both patch-area effects and species extinction thresholds.