Bodil Elmhagen

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Abstract

Population persistence in a landscape context: the case of endangered arctic fox populations in Fennoscandia

Anthropogenic fragmentation of habitat and populations is recognized as one of the most important factors influencing loss of biodiversity. Since it is difficult to quantify demographic parameters in small populations, we need alternative methods to elucidate important factors affecting the viability of local populations. The Fennoscandian arctic fox inhabits a naturally fragmented alpine tundra environment, but historic anthropogenic impacts have further fragmented its distribution. After almost 80 yr of protection, the population remains critically endangered. Both intrinsic factors (related to the isolation and size of sub-populations) and extrinsic factors (related to environmental conditions  influencing patch quality and interspecific competition) have been proposed as explanations for the lack of population growth. To distinguish between these hypotheses, we conducted a spatially explicit analysis that compares areas where the species has persisted with areas where it has become locally extinct. We used characteristics of the fragments of alpine tundra habitat and individual arctic fox breeding dens (including both currently active dens and historically active dens) within the fragments to evaluate the importance of habitat characteristics and connectivity in explaining variation in persistence within a fragment. The number of reproductive events in a fragment was related to the size of the fragment, but not more than expected following a 1:1 relationship, suggesting little effect of fragment size on the relative number of reproductions. The likelihood of a den being used for breeding was positively associated with factors minimising interspecific competition as well as increasing within-fragment connectivity. These results support the idea that the failure of Fennoscandian arctic fox to recover is caused by demographic factors that can be related to fine-scale Allee or Allee-like effects, as well as environmental influences related to increased competition and exclusion by red foxes.

Reference
Herfindal I, Linnell JDC, Elmhagen B, Andersen R, Eide NE, Frafjord K, Henttonen H, Kaikusalo A, Mela M, Tannerfeldt M, Dalén L, Strand O, Landa A, Angerbjörn A. (2010) Population persistence in a landscape context: the case of endangered arctic fox populations in Fennoscandia. Ecography 33: 932-941.

 
     
 

Alpine tundra landscape fragmented by valleys with forests and lakes

 

 
High altitude boreal forest
Alpine birch forest
Alpine tundra