Center for Computational and Theoretical Biology

Metapopulations and Metacommunities in a Changing World


Species do not generally occur in continuous space and time, but normally on more or less descrete patches interspaced by a matrix of various degree of hostility. These creates metapopulations, namely a group of populations connected by long-distance dispersal. Seminal theoretical work in metapopulations was pioneered by Levins and further developement was systematically summarized by Ilka Hanski. However, species also do not occurr alone and the same rationale can be applied one ecological level higher - the metacommunity, a field explored and summarized by Mathew Leibold and Jonathan Chase. Various theoretical concepts come into play on metapopulations and metacommunities, such as source-sink dynamics (similar to mainland-island system), multiple equilibria, fragmentation effects, and patch extinction and re-colonization. Studies may have explicit local population dynamics, but metapopulation and metacommunity fields are largely represented by demographically-implicit models that concentrate on the patch colonization and extinction dynamics.

In our working group, we explore how metapopulation and metacommunity dynamics emerge from multi-species, niche-based, spatially-explicit models which are based on individuals and populations.


This topic is currently investigated in three subprojects:

1) Extinction debt in fragmented landscapes: spatio-temporal metacommunity dynamics under environmental change. Performed by PhD student Ludmilla Figueiredo.

2) Eco-evolutionary dynamics on islands. Performed by PhD student Ludwig Leidinger.

3) Invasion dynamics on islands. Performed by MSc student Daniel Vedder.

4) Current and future distribution of aquatic macrophytes in Bavarian lakes (a BLIZ/Bayklif project). Performed by PhD student Anne Lewerentz


2020[ to top ]
  • Integrating the underlying structure of stochasticity into community ecology Shoemaker, Lauren G.; Sullivan, Lauren L.; Donohue, Ian; Cabral, Juliano S.; Williams, Ryan J.; Mayfield, Margaret M.; Chase, Jonathan M.; Chu, Chengjin; Harpole, W. Stanley; Huth, Andreas; HilleRisLambers, Janneke; James, Aubrie R.M.; Kraft, Nathan J.B.; May, Felix; Muthukrishnan, Ranjan; Satterlee, Sean; Taubert, Franziska; Wang, Xugao; Wiegand, Thorsten; Yang, Qiang; Abbott, Karen C. in Ecology (2020). 101 e02922.
2019[ to top ]
  • Understanding extinction debts: spatio-temporal scales, mechanisms and a roadmap for future research Figueiredo, Ludmilla; Krauß, Jochen; Steffan-Dewenter, Ingolf; Sarmento Cabral, Juliano in Ecography (2019). 42 1973–1990.
  • The latitudinal diversity gradient - novel understanding through mechanistic eco-evolutionary models Pontarp, Mikael; Bunnefeld, Lynsey; Cabral, Juliano Sarmento; Etienne, Rampal S.; Fritz, Susanne A.; Gillespie, Rosemary; Graham, Catherine H.; Hagen, Oskar; Hartig, Florian; Huang, Shan; Jansson, Roland; Maliet, Odile; Münkemüller, Tamara; Pellissier, Loïc; Rangel, Thiago F.; Storch, David; Wiegand, Thorsten; Hurlbert, Allen H. in Trends in Ecology & Evolution (2019). 34 211–223.
  • The dimensionality of stability depends on disturbance type Radchuk, Viktoriia; De Laender, Frederik; Sarmento Cabral, Juliano; Boulangeat, Isabelle; Crawford, Michael; Bohn, Friedrich; De Raedt, Jonathan; Scherer, Cedric; Svenning, Jens-Christian; Thonicke, Kirsten; Schurr, Frank; Grimm, Volker; Kramer-Schadt, Stephanie in Ecology Letters (2019). 22 674–684.
  • Interactions between ecological, evolutionary, and environmental processes unveil complex dynamics of insular plant diversity Cabral, J.S.; Wiegand, K.; Kreft, H. in Journal of Biogeography (2019). 46 1582–1597.
  • Assessing predicted isolation effects from the general dynamic model of island biogeography with an eco-evolutionary model for plants Cabral, J.S.; Whittaker, R.J.; Wiegand, K.; Kreft, H. in Journal of Biogeography (2019). 46 1569–1581.
2017[ to top ]
  • Interactions between ecological, evolutionary, and environmental processes unveil complex dynamics of island biodiversity Cabral, J.S.; Wiegand, K.; Kreft, H. in bioRxiv (2017). (099978)
2016[ to top ]
  • Functional leaf traits of vascular epiphytes: vertical trends within the forest, intra- and interspecific trait variability, and taxonomic signals Petter, G.; Wagner, K.; Wanek, W.; Sánchez Delgado, E.J.; Zotz, G.; Cabral, J.S.; Kreft, H. in Functional Ecology (2016). 30 188–198.
  • Delineating probabilistic species pools in ecology and biogeography Karger, D.N.; Cord, A.; Kessler, M.; Kreft, H.; Kühn, I.; Pompe, S.; Sandel, B.; Sarmento Cabral, J.; Smith, A.; Svenning, J.-C.; Tuomisto, H.; Weigelt, P.; Wesche, K. in Global Ecology and Biogeography (2016). 25 489–501.
  • Benchmarking novel approaches for modelling species range dynamics Zurell, Damaris; Thuiller, Wilfried; Pagel, Jörn; Cabral, Juliano S.; Münkemüller, Tamara; Gravel, Dominique; Dullinger, Stefan; Normand, Signe; Schiffers, Katja H.; Moore, Kara A.; Zimmermann, Niklaus E. in Global Change Biology (2016). 22(8) 2651–2664.
2015[ to top ]
  • Branchfall as a demographic filter for epiphyte communities: Lessons from a forest floor-based sampling Cabral, J.S.; Petter, G.; Mendieta-Leiva, G.; Wagner, K.; Zotz, G.; Kreft, H. in PloS one (2015). 10 e0128019.
2012[ to top ]
  • Linking ecological niche, community ecology and biogeography: insights from a mechanistic niche model Cabral, Juliano Sarmento; Kreft, Holger in Journal of Biogeography (2012). 39(12) 2212–2224.
  • How to understand species’ niches and range dynamics: a demographic research agenda for biogeography Schurr, Frank M.; Pagel, Jörn; Cabral, Juliano Sarmento; Groeneveld, Jürgen; Bykova, Olga; O’Hara, Robert B.; Hartig, Florian; Kissling, W. Daniel; Linder, H. Peter; Midgley, Guy F.; Schröder, Boris; Singer, Alexander; Zimmermann, Niklaus E. in Journal of Biogeography (2012). 39(12) 2146–2162.
2011[ to top ]
  • Effects of Harvesting Flowers from Shrubs on the Persistence and Abundance of Wild Shrub Populations at Multiple Spatial Extents Cabral, Juliano Sarmento; Bond, William J.; Midgley, Guy F.; Rebelo, Anthony G.; Thuiller, Wilfried; Schurr, Frank M. in Conservation Biology (2011). 25(1) 73–84.
2010[ to top ]
  • Estimating demographic models for the range dynamics of plant species Cabral, Juliano S.; Schurr, Frank M. in Global Ecology and Biogeography (2010). 19(1) 85–97.