Confounding of patch quality and matrix effects in herbivore movement studies

Kyle J. Haynes, Louisiana State University
James T. Cronin, Louisiana State University


Although the landscape matrix is increasingly incorporated into spatial-ecological population studies, little consideration has been given to the likely possibility that patch quality is confounded with the composition of the matrix surrounding each patch. For example, the nutritional quality of host-plant patches to an herbivore may be highly correlated with matrix composition, consequently obfuscating the importance of the matrix itself to interpatch dispersal. From a literature survey of the effects of the matrix on herbivore movement among host-plant patches, we found that 55% of the studies (6/11) failed to experimentally or statistically isolate the effects of the matrix from potential patch-quality effects on dispersal. Most studies consisted of mark-recapture experiments in natural landscapes where patch equality was not controlled or manipulated. Of the few studies that evaluated the relationship between matrix composition and patch quality, all of them (3/3) found that these two landscape factors covaried. These data suggest that in most matrix studies, effects of the matrix on dispersal may be wholly, or in part, due to underlying differences in patch quality.