Transient windows for connectivity in a changing world
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The primary focus of studies examining metapopulation processes in dynamic or disturbance-dependent landscapes has been related to spatiotemporal changes in the habitat patches themselves. However, like the habitat patches, opportunities for movement between patches can also exist intermittently in dynamic landscapes, creating transient connectivity windows – which we define as a period of time during which matrix conditions increase the probability of one or more individuals moving successfully between habitat patches. Far less is known about the implications of dynamic changes in connectivity per se, and, to our knowledge, there are no connectivity metrics or metapopulation models that explicitly consider intermittent changes to connectivity between habitat patches. Consequently, in this paper, we examined the peer-reviewed, published literature up to November 2013 to better understand the consequences of variability in connectivity and to highlight knowledge gaps on this topic. First, we describe how connectivity per se can vary along a temporal gradient, offering examples of ecological systems that fall along this gradient. Second, we examine how temporal variability in connectivity is important for metapopulation dynamics, particularly given likely alterations to disturbance regimes as a result of global change. We conclude our review by briefly discussing key avenues for future connectivity-related research, all of which hinge on the need to perceive connectivity as a transient feature.