Protecting large, well-connected landscapes remains one of the best conservation strategies for maintaining biodiversity in the future. Given the likelihood of climate change to cause species range shifts, land managers and other decision-makers will need to identify key corridors and key core areas that will contribute to regional connectivity.
New research has added to the growing number of connectivity models and theoretical frameworks that provide guidance for this task. In their recent paper in PLOS One, Belote et al. identify a network of linkages throughout the entire United States that would maintain crucial corridors between protected areas such as national parks and wilderness areas. Building on previous work by Theobald et al. that developed a nationwide connectivity network, this new research does so with the explicit aim of modeling potential connections between protected areas.
The analysis uses Linkage Mapper to identify corridors between multiple types of protected areas across the United States. The resulting connectivity map is a composite of model outputs using four different resistance surfaces representing gradients in human-modification of lands.
By quantifying the contribution of certain protected areas, particularly federally-owned and -managed lands, the models help managers prioritize which units need to receive elevated levels of protection, or which may be downgraded in protection for greater public use. Such a coarse-filter assessment for evaluating regional connectivity conservation priorities may even be more effective than efforts to use fine-scale filtering (i.e. individual species or habitats).
Their models provide a reasonable first-approximation for identifying lands that are in need of higher conservation priority and should be the focus of land management planning, particularly for federal agencies. The models can also be adapted to more specific species or smaller regions, and provide guidance for any manager facing the need to connect large landscapes in the context of climate change.
Belote, R. T., M. S. Dietz, B. H. McRae, D. M. Theobald, M. L. McClure, G. H. Irwin, P. S. McKinley, J. A. Gage, and G. H. Aplet. 2016. Identifying corridors among large protected areas in the United States. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0154223. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0154223.
Theobald, D. M., S. E. Reed, K. Fields, and M. Soulé. 2012. Connecting natural landscapes using a landscape permeability model to prioritize conservation activities in the United States. Conservation Letters 5(2): 123-133.
Designing climate corridors: will coarse filters work? (September 2013)