Empirical evidence for source–sink populations: a review on occurrence, assessments and implications
Assessing the role of local populations in a landscape context has become increasingly important in the fields of conservation biology and ecology. A growing number of studies attempt to determine the source–sink status of local populations. As the source–sink concept is commonly used for management decisions in nature conservation, accurate assessment approaches are crucial. Based on a systematic literature review of studies published between 2002 and 2013, we evaluated a priori predictions on methodological and biological factors that may influence the occurrence of source or sink populations. The review yielded 90 assessments from 73 publications that included qualitative and quantitative evidence for either source or sink population(s) for one or multiple species. Overall, sink populations tended to occur more often than source populations. Moreover, the occurrence of source or sink populations differed among taxonomic classes. Sinks were more often found than sources in mammals, while there was a non-significant trend for the opposite to be true for amphibians. Univariate and multivariate analyses showed that the occurrence of sources was positively related to connectivity of local populations. Our review furthermore highlights that more than 25 years after Pulliam's widely cited publication on ‘sources, sinks, and population regulation’, in-depth assessments of the source–sink status of populations based on combined consideration of demographic parameters such as fecundity, survival, emigration and immigration are still scarce. To increase our understanding of source–sink systems from ecological, evolutionary and conservation-related perspectives, we recommend that forthcoming studies on source–sink dynamics should pay more attention to the study design (i.e. connectivity of study populations) and that the assessment of the source–sink status of local populations is based on λ values calculated from demographic rates.