Metapopulation extinction risk is increased by environmental stochasticity and assemblage complexity.
Bull JC., Pickup NJ., Pickett B., Hassell MP., Bonsall MB.
Extinction risk is a key area of investigation for contemporary ecologists and conservation biologists. Practical conservation efforts for vulnerable species can be considerably enhanced by thoroughly understanding the ecological processes that interact to determine species persistence or extinction. Theory has highlighted the importance of both extrinsic environmental factors and intrinsic demographic processes. In laboratory microcosms, single-species single-habitat patch experimental designs have been widely used to validate the theoretical prediction that environmental heterogeneity can increase extinction risk. Here, we develop on this theme by testing the effects of fluctuating resource levels in experimental multispecies metapopulations. We compare a three-species host-parasitoid assemblage that exhibits apparent competition to the individual pairwise, host-parasitoid interactions. Existing theory is broadly supported for two-species assemblages: environmental stochasticity reduces trophic interaction persistence time, while metapopulation structure increases persistence time. However, with increasing assemblage complexity, the effects of trophic interactions mask environmental impacts and persistence time is further reduced, regardless of resource renewal regime. We relate our findings to recent theory, highlighting the importance of taking into account both intrinsic and extrinsic factors, over a range of spatial scales, in order to understand resource-consumer dynamics.