Abstract

Landscape connectivity, the extent to which a landscape facilitates the movements of organisms and their genes, faces critical threats from both fragmentation and habitat loss. Many conservation efforts focus on protecting and enhancing connectivity to offset the impacts of habitat loss and fragmentation on biodiversity conservation, and to increase the resilience of reserve networks to potential threats associated with climate change. Loss of connectivity can reduce the size and quality of available habitat, impede and disrupt movement (including dispersal) to new habitats, and affect seasonal migration patterns. These changes can lead, in turn, to detrimental effects for populations and species, including decreased carrying capacity, population declines, loss of genetic variation, and ultimately species extinction. Measuring and mapping connectivity is facilitated by a growing number of quantitative approaches that can integrate large amounts of information about organisms’ life histories, habitat quality, and other features essential to evaluating connectivity for a given population or species. However, identifying effective approaches for maintaining and restoring connectivity poses several challenges, and our understanding of how connectivity should be designed to mitigate the impacts of climate change is, as yet, in its infancy. Scientists and managers must confront and overcome several challenges inherent in evaluating and planning for connectivity, including: •characterizing the biology of focal species; •understanding the strengths and the limitations of the models used to evaluate connectivity; •considering spatial and temporal extent in connectivity planning; •using caution in extrapolating results outside of observed conditions; •considering non-linear relationships that can complicate assumed or expected ecological responses; •accounting and planning for anthropogenic change in the landscape; •using well-defined goals and objectives to drive the selection of methods used for evaluating and planning for connectivity; •and communicating to the general public in clear and meaningful language the importance of connectivity to improve awareness and strengthen policies for ensuring conservation. Several aspects of connectivity science deserve additional attention in order to improve the effectiveness of design and implementation. Research on species persistence, behavioral ecology, and community structure is needed to reduce the uncertainty associated with connectivity models. Evaluating and testing connectivity responses to climate change will be critical to achieving conservation goals in the face of the rapid changes that will confront many communities and ecosystems. All of these potential areas of advancement will fall short of conservation goals if we do not effectively incorporate human activities into connectivity planning. While this Issue identifies substantial uncertainties in mapping connectivity and evaluating resilience to climate change, it is also clear that integrating human and natural landscape conservation planning to enhance habitat connectivity is essential for biodiversity conservation.

Publication Date

Fall 2012

Journal Title

Issues in Ecology

Publisher

Ecological Society of America

Document Type

Report

Rights

© The Ecological Society of America