A stochastic structured metapopulation model to assess recovery scenarios of patchily distributed endangered species: Case study for a Mojave Desert rodent

Stephanie T. Castle, Patrick Foley, Deana L. Clifford, Janet Foley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


While metapopulation theory offers tractable means to understand extinction risks for patchily- distributed endangered species, real systems often feature discrepant patch quality and accessibility, complex influences of environmental stochasticity, and regional and temporal autocorrelation. Spatially structured metapopulation models are flexible and can use real data but often at the cost of generality. Particularly as resources for management of such species are often critically limited, endangered species management guided by metapopulation modeling requires incorporation of biological realism. Here we developed a flexible, stochastic spatially structured metapopulation model of the profoundly endangered Amargosa vole, a microtine rodent with an extant population of only a few hundred individuals within 1km2 of habitat in the Mojave Desert. Drought and water insecurity are increasing extinction risks considerably. We modelled subpopulation demographics using a Ricker-like model with migration implemented in an incidence function metapopulation model. A set of scenarios was used to assess the effect of anthropogenic stressors or management actions on expected time to extinction (Te) including: 1) wildland fire, 2) anthropogenically-mediated losses of hydrologic flows, 3) drought, 4) intentional expansion of existing patches into 'megamarshes' (i.e. via restoration/enhancement), and 5) additive impacts of multiple influences. In isolation, marshes could be sources or sinks, but spatial context within the full metapopulation including adjacency could alter relative impacts of subpopulations on all other subpopulations. The greatest reductions in persistence occurred in scenarios simulated with impacts from drought in combination with fire or anthropogenically-mediated losses of hydrologic flows. Optimal actions to improve persistence were to prevent distant and smaller marshes from acting as sinks through strategic creation of megamarshes that act as sources of voles and stepping-stones. This research reinforces that management resources expended without guidance from empirically-based modeling can actually harm species' persistence. This metapopulation-PVA tool could easily be implemented for other patchily-distributed endangered species and allow managers to maximize scarce resources to improve the likelihood of endangered species persistence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0237516
JournalPloS one
Issue number8 August
StatePublished - Aug 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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