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Preserving Connectivity Under Climate and Land-use Change

No One-Size-Fits-All Approach for Focal Species in Similar Habitats

Read the paper in Biological Conservation, Volume 248, August 2020, 108678

Wildlands Network Chief Scientist Dr. Ron Sutherland was part of a research team that published an important new habitat connectivity study in the journal Biological Conservation. The study examined least-cost paths modeled for three different species, black bear, Rafinesque’s big-eared bats and timber rattlesnakes. These species use similar types of forested habitats in the southeastern United States, but have quite different capacities for dispersal and movement across the landscape.

The team was able to measure the degree of future threat posed to each habitat corridor by both climate and land-use change. Furthermore, the researchers were able to place these threats in context based on the importance of each corridor to the overall habitat network, and the degree of existing protection for the corridor.

The paper presents a proposed new framework for appropriate conservation response under different scenarios. For example, the response for corridors that face high threats from climate change and land-use change—and have low degrees of importance and existing protection—is suggested to be “consider relocation or assisted migration”, whereas the conservation strategy in a climate-stable corridor with high risk from land use change and low protection is to “add protection”.

The study in part builds off previous work by Wildlands Network and Clemson University, where teams modeled habitat connectivity for seven different species in the South Atlantic region (South Atlantic LCC report; Leonard et al. 2016).