Save the (empty) rainforests

Today, I am going to challenge the way you think about habitat. A habitat is the place where an animal or plant or other organism lives, like tigers in the jungle, poison ivy in areas of forest floor with generally poor soil, and archaea in the hot springs at Yellowstone National Park and in the rumens of cows. Well, most of the time that’s what it is. There is an important biological exception: metapopulations.

A metapopulation is a group of organisms of the same species that occupies discrete patches of suitable habitat within a continuous range, but which is considered to be a single population because individuals migrate from patch to patch within their lifetimes.

metapopulation

The range of a metapopulation (dotted line) encompasses many patches of suitable habitat (shaded areas).

migration

Organisms can migrate among the patches during their lifetimes.

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