Supporting the continued existence of species and ecological communities is a multidimensional process which requires understanding how species interact with each other and their physical environments. One of the major roles of ecological conservationists is to support the continued survival of species in natural ecosystems. Though ecologists aim to support species survival, extinctions can not be completely avoided; extinctions occur on a regular basis. Local extinctions are characterized by the disappearance of a species in a particular region or habitat. However, that species may also have habitats in other locations across vast distances. The fragmented groupings of species (which are present in multiple areas) is known as its subpopulations.
What Is the Difference Between Metapopulation and Subpopulation?
The overall status and health of a species is defined by its overarching metapopulation structure. The metapopulation structure is the entire set of represented populations or groups of a species. Accordingly, distributions of subpopulations are constituent parts that make up the larger metapopulation structure. The metapopulation is comprised of the sum total of the same species across habitats.
When one of a species’ subpopulations disappears or dies out, it is considered a local extinction. Local extinctions strictly refer to the disappearance of a subpopulation in a particular area, habitat or batch of an ecosystem. Local extinctions, which occur at the level of subpopulations, do not refer to the total disappearance of a species from all areas or habitats.
Migrations between habitats helps keep subpopulations from going locally extinct. In other words, there is always a chance that a population could go locally extinct due to various pressures in its environment, such as predator species, adverse weather climatological conditions or resource scarcity. However, physical connectivity between subpopulations can help prevent local extinctions. Migrants, organisms belonging to a subpopulation that travel between habitats allow for subpopulations to interact with other groups (or the metapopulation) within the species. Having interconnectivity between subpopulation groups strengthens the chances of the species surviving by introducing new species members into the habitat. Therefore, managing the way that organisms are dispersed over long distances or across different habitats will be a relevant factor in conserving species diversity.
Conservationist efforts should consider curating the distribution of subpopulations as they relate to the metapopulation structure.
If a species subpopulation number is low in a given habitat, then it will likely have a higher chance of going locally extinct. However, the arrival of migrants allow for the persistence of a species in a region. Connecting organisms or connecting subpopulations in different habitats (or in different locations) allows for an exchange of genes. Exchanging genes between subpopulations increases the chances of continued survival of the metapopulation. Ipso facto, isolated subpopulations will likely be more vulnerable to local extinctions than subpopulations which are connected to larger group structures (or the metapopulation).