Self-segregation in heterogeneous metapopulation landscapes

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Complex interactions are at the root of the population dynamics of many natural systems, particularly for being responsible for the allocation of species and individuals across apposite niches of the ecological landscapes. On the other side, the randomness that unavoidably characterises complex systems has increasingly challenged the niche paradigm providing alternative neutral theoretical models. We introduce a network-inspired metapopulation individual-based model (IBM), hereby named self-segregation, where the density of individuals in the hosting patches (local habitats) drives the individuals spatial assembling while still constrained by nodes’ saturation. In particular, we prove that the core–periphery structure of the networked landscape triggers the spontaneous emergence of vacant habitat patches, which segregate the population in multistable patterns of isolated (sub)communities separated by empty patches. Furthermore, a quantisation effect in the number of vacant patches is observed once the total system mass varies continuously, emphasising thus a striking feature of the robustness of population stationary distributions. Notably, our model reproduces the patch vacancy found in the fragmented habitat of the Glanville fritillary butterfly Melitaea cinxia, an endemic species of the Åland islands. We argue that such spontaneous breaking of the natural habitat supports the concept of the highly contentious (Grinnellian) niche vacancy and also suggests a new mechanism for the endogeneous habitat fragmentation and consequently the peripatric speciation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number111271
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2022


  • Ecological landscapes
  • Population dynamics
  • Heterogeneous networks
  • Fragmented habitats
  • Vacant habitat patches


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