Eco-evolutionary metapopulation theory
Many populations are often naturally spatially structured due to the spatial structure of their habitats or their behaviors related to space use. A metapopulation refers to such a population that are composed of many subpopulations interconnected by dispersal. Studies have shown convincingly that spatial structure of populations can critically influence population dynamics and genetic diversity, hence persistence and evolutionary trajectories of the populations. Understanding the effects of spatial structure has become increasingly important as humans alter landscapes for their own use and, as a result, the persistence of many populations that used to be distributed continuously are threatened by habitat fragmentation. The roles of spatial population structure on the ecology and genetics of metapopulations have been studied rather theoretically for simplified landscapes for analytical tractability. Although we have gained good understanding of the effects of simple spatial structure, metapopulations in nature live in more complex landscapes that are both temporally and spatially heterogeneous. Metapopulation theory developed in the last two decades has recently started to incorporate more realistic complexity in their models. Another important recent advance in ecology and evolution is that evolutionary changes can occur in similar time scale as ecological dynamics, and hence ecology and evolution can interact. This so-called eco-evolutionary dynamics or feedbacks has mostly concerned populations in isolation, and the role of space in eco-evolutionary dynamics has not yet been well explored. The aim of this proposed project is to study eco-evolutionary dynamics in metapopulations. Studying ecological and evolutionary dynamics in a spatial context is analytically often difficult, so that numerical and simulation studies play an important role. We plan to develop individual-based simulation models to address the effects of spatial population structure on population dynamics and genetic structure, and their consequences on evolutionary trajectories and eco-evolutionary feedbacks in metapopulations. This is an important topic for advancing metapopulation theory as well as practical applications for conservation of biological diversity.