Despite the considerable evidence showing that dispersal between habitat patches is often asymmetric, most of the metapopulation models assume symmetric dispersal. In this paper, we develop a Monte Carlo simulation model to quantify the effect of asymmetric dispersal on metapopulation persistence. Our results suggest that metapopulation extinctions are more likely when dispersal is asymmetric. Metapopulation viability in systems with symmetric dispersal mirrors results from a mean field approximation, where the system persists if the expected per patch colonization probability exceeds the expected per patch local extinction rate. For asymmetric cases, the mean field approximation underestimates the number of patches necessary for maintaining population persistence. If we use a model assuming symmetric dispersal when dispersal is actually asymmetric, the estimation of metapopulation persistence is wrong in more than 50% of the cases. Metapopulation viability depends on patch connectivity in symmetric systems, whereas in the asymmetric case the number of patches is more important. These results have important implications for managing spatially structured populations, when asymmetric dispersal may occur. Future metapopulation models should account for asymmetric dispersal, while empirical work is needed to quantify the patterns and the consequences of asymmetric dispersal in natural metapopulations.
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