Designing corridors with dispersal ecology in mind

The design of corridors is often based on where a species is found, rather than where it moves.  Although data on species location or habitat preference is usually the easiest to collect, this information may misrepresent the best locations for corridors.  Data on species movement, although more challenging to obtain, can lead to more realistic corridors by giving clues to dispersal opportunities or limitations.

elk_at_big_spring_creek_great_sand_dunes_national_parkRecent research by Benz et al. uses a novel method to incorporate dispersal ecology into designing corridors in the Northern Rocky mountains of southern Canada and northern Montana.  They used satellite tracking data to observe habitat selection of young male elk, who are big dispersers during the spring and autumn but maintain a low-movement residency during the winter and summer.  They then created a least-cost corridor network by combining resource selection functions to locate habitats selected during winter/summer residency and step selection functions to estimate habitat selection during spring/autumn movements.  Finally, they identified movement corridors that may have been lost due to the presence of major highways.

They found that their new approach to incorporating movement ecology into modelling corridors resulted in more realistic corridor design, and is particularly fitting for young, male dispersers that may not follow a single most-suitable route.  They also found that the number of road segments that would be crossed was reduced by almost half as a result of road avoidance by elk.  This approach, combined with other research that suggests methods for incorporating behavior into connectivity planning, can lead to more practical applications for corridor design and create corridors that are more likely to be used.  In addition, the influence of new roads on current movement corridors can be investigated and integrated into road planning prior to development, lowering the potential for highways to create yet another barrier to movement.

Resources

Benz, R. A., M. S. Boyce, H. Thurfjell, D. G. Paton, M. Musiani, C. F. Dormann, and S. Ciuti. 2016. Dispersal ecology informs design of large-scale wildlife corridors. PLOS ONE 11(9): e0162989. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0162989.

How much does animal behavior matter in corridor planning? (June 2016)

2017-03-19T23:29:23+00:00 October 17th, 2016|

About the Author:

Heather Cayton

Heather Cayton is the Managing Director of ConservationCorridor.org and a Research Technician at North Carolina State University. She received her B.S. from the University of Virginia and her M.S. from Virginia Tech, and has spent the past eight years studying corridors and rare butterflies in North Carolina.