Since its inception nearly 50 years ago, the metapopulation concept has revolutionized the way ecologists consider the dynamics of populations and communities. While much metapopulation theory has been developed, rigorous empirical evaluations of these predictions are relatively scant and typically very limited in temporal and spatial scope. The most thorough and impactful examinations of metapopulation dynamics in real ecosystems come from long-term studies over relatively large areas (e.g., Glanville fritillary butterfly populations in the Finnish Åland Islands), indicating that long-term ecological data provide some of the best opportunities to empirically evaluate and advance metapopulation theory. Therefore, the LTER Network is in a unique position to contribute to metapopulation ecology, which is characterized by many unresolved questions, several theories with scant empirical evidence, and a lack of unity and coordination among observational and experimental studies.
The primary goal of this working group is to encourage interest in metapopulation ecology within the LTER Network and to develop cross-site collaborations aimed at resolving the challenges facing metapopulation ecology. During the first hour of the workshop, organizers will highlight some exemplary long-term metapopulation studies with the goal of identifying common themes, strengths, and limitations. Organizers will also discuss metapopulation hypotheses presently lacking strong empirical evidence as well as the most promising avenues for future research.
Because we are particularly interested in the potential for cross-site comparisons and syntheses, in the second hour participants will discuss how existing data from their LTER site could be utilized to address pressing issues in metapopulation ecology. We will also examine strategies for new data collection and analysis that have high potential to advance metapopulation ecology while avoiding common pitfalls.
Potential products from this working group include research paper(s) analyzing existing LTER data in novel ways, a meta-analysis paper analyzing empirical metapopulation publications, a review paper focused on the current understanding and future directions in metapopulation ecology, and/or a proposal for a cross-site study with new data collection aimed at asking novel questions within metapopulation ecology.