Turning the Science of Connectivity into Action: Finding Model Consistency and Identifying Priority Habitats for Conservation

Nick Haddad, Department of Applied Ecology, NC State University

Project Completion:  June 2017. This project has now been completed.
Implements Science Plan Theme: 1, 2, and 4

Overview

Habitat fragmentation occurs when loss of habitat (e.g. to land use changes or human development) divides large or connected habitat areas into smaller, more isolated areas. This process is recognized as one of the most pressing conservation issues in the Southeastern U.S. Habitat loss and fragmentation reduces the amount of suitable habitat available to wildlife species, divides wildlife populations and reduces genetic diversity, and interrupts important migration patterns; and climate change is likely to disrupt habitat areas even more. Maintaining connectivity between habitats and wildlife populations will be a key management strategy for conserving biodiversity in the region into the future.

Previous work by the research team modeled and mapped connectivity in the Southeast for three animals that inhabit bottomland forests, and showed where key connections in the landscape lie both currently and in the future. However, the researchers observed large variation in connectivity across geographical areas, time periods, and species. These results raised new questions about which connections are most important for management actions.

This project built on this previous research with four approaches: 1) analyze consistency between this work and other connectivity efforts; 2) assess trade-offs between current and future connectivity; 3) extend work on the prioritization of core habitat areas and central points of connectivity; and 4) optimize the selection of sites for conservation action at the local scale. This project similarly had a regional focus on bottomland hardwoods, but also extended to include longleaf pine forests. The work provides a greater understanding of high priority areas for connectivity to inform conservation planners in the Southeast.