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The Metatron: an experimental system to study dispersal and metaecosystems for terrestrial organisms


Dispersal of organisms generates gene flow between populations. Identifying factors that influence dispersal will help predict how species will cope with rapid environmental change. We developed an innovative infrastructure, the Metatron, composed of 48 interconnected patches, designed for the study of terrestrial organism movement as a model for dispersal. Corridors between patches can be flexibly open or closed. Temperature, humidity and illuminance can be independently controlled within each patch. The modularity and adaptability of the Metatron provide the opportunity for robust experimental design for the study of 'meta-systems'. We describe a pilot experiment on populations of the butterfly Pieris brassicae and the lizard Zootoca vivipara in the Metatron. Both species survived and showed both disperser and resident phenotypes. The Metatron offers the opportunity to test theoretical models in spatial ecology.

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Figure 1: Layout of the Metatron.
Figure 2: Description of patches and corridors.
Figure 3: Measurement and control of climate parameters.
Figure 4: Temperature within patches.
Figure 5: Impact of the shutter and sprinkler systems on climactic conditions within patches.


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The Metatron was funded by the European Union, the French government through the Ecology and Environment Institute of the CNRS (F. Gaill and B. Delay), the Region of the Midi-Pyrenées, the Department of the Ariège and the intercommunal grouping of Saint-Girons. We thank E. Vialan for his technical help. M.B. and J. Clobert acknowledge support from the project TenLamas funded by the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche through the EU FP6 BiodivERsA Eranet, the EU FP7 SCALES project ('Securing the conservations of biodiversity across Administrative levels and spatial, temporal and Ecological Scales'; project no. 226852) and projects funded by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche: DIAME (open call, 2007) and MOBIGEN (6th extinction call, 2009). This research program was also supported by a Fyssen Foundation research grant to J. Cote. S. Ducatez kindly provided unpublished data of butterfly survival in laboratory conditions. This work is part of the Laboratoire d'Excellence TULIP (ANR-10-LABX-41).

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Authors and Affiliations



J. Clobert had the initial idea and managed the fund acquisition for the construction of the Metatron. J. Clobert, J.L., J.-F.L.G., O.G., Q.B. and M.B. participated in the final conception of the system, and J. Clobert, O.G. and Q.B. solved all the technical issues. D.L., A.T., O.C. and M.B. collected butterfly data. J. Cote, F.Z., S.Z., O.C. and J. Clobert collected lizard data. D.L. and A.T. analyzed the butterfly data. J. Cote analyzed the lizard data. D.L., O.G., M.B., J. Cote, J.-F.L.G. and J. Clobert wrote the paper. All authors commented on and approved the final version of the paper.

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Correspondence to Jean Clobert.

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Legrand, D., Guillaume, O., Baguette, M. et al. The Metatron: an experimental system to study dispersal and metaecosystems for terrestrial organisms. Nat Methods 9, 828–833 (2012).

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