It’s easy to forget that science is more than just, well, science. Along with the research component comes the human component, and the fact that social values and public opinion can be highly influential in determining how science is applied. This can be especially true when planning for connectivity, where the backdrop is usually a large landscape that supports numerous species and includes human development. The result is that conservation priorities often should be examined in conjunction with social factors and development preferences to realistically determine the feasibility of developing regional scale connectivity networks.
In their new paper in Landscape Ecology, Lechner et al. ask how social factors and projected future development might influence regional connectivity in the Lower Hunter Region of New South Wales, Australia. They integrate projected future urban development data and social data gathered from mail-based surveys that describes how public opinion may influence connectivity. Connectivity is modeled using least-cost paths and future scenarios based on vegetation addition or removal. They find that positive public opinion resulted in supported the enhancement of connectivity in the region, and thus supported overall conservation goals, even with the consideration of additional negative conservation opinion.
There are two points to take away from their research. First, they provide one of the first detailed methodologies for integrating social data to predict its effects on connectivity, in a manner that could be applicable to many other regions. Second, they quantitatively show a link between public opinion and ecological rationale for increasing connectivity, so that plans for connectivity can be both ecologically relevant and socially acceptable. Their approach is useful for assessing whether there is broad community support for a particular connectivity initiative, and determining the extent to which the public is aware of regionally important locations for doing so. By providing such a framework, they take a step forward in improving methods for better integrating humans and their activities into connectivity planning.
Lechner, A. M., G. Brown, and C. M. Raymond. 2015. Modeling the impact of future development and public conservation orientation on landscape connectivity for conservation planning. Landscape Ecology. DOI: 10.1007/s10980-015-0153-0.