An exciting advance in the understanding of metapopulation dynamics has been the investigation of how populations respond to ephemeral patches that go 'extinct' during the lifetime of an individual. Previous research has shown that this scenario leads to genetic homogenization across large spatial scales. However, little is known about fine-scale genetic structuring or how this changes over time in ephemeral patches. We predicted that species that specialize on ephemeral habitats will delay dispersal to exploit natal habitat patches while resources are plentiful and thus display fine-scale structure. To investigate this idea, we evaluated the effect of frequent colonization of ephemeral habitats on the fine-scale genetic structure of a fire specialist, the black-backed woodpecker (Picoides arcticus) and found a pattern of fine-scale genetic structure. We then tested for differences in spatial structure between sexes and detected a pattern consistent with male-biased dispersal. We also detected a temporal increase in relatedness among individuals within newly burned forest patches. Our results indicate that specialist species that outlive their ephemeral patches can accrue significant fine-scale spatial structure that does not necessarily affect spatial structure at larger scales. This highlights the importance of both spatial and temporal scale considerations in both sampling and data interpretation of molecular genetic results.
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