Over one-third of the earth’s land is used for farming, the majority being just a single crop planted over thousands of acres. Large-scale farms and habitat loss impede the movement of species by changing resource availability and landscape structure.
In order to mitigate biodiversity loss and maintain ecosystem function, we must design farmland for both food production and conservation. But the question remains: how do we manage agricultural landscapes to support biodiversity and maintain the movement of species?
Existing management strategies suggest restoring structural connectivity in agricultural landscapes through the implementation of habitat corridors or stepping stones. A new study considers an alternative to restoring structural connectivity: utilizing knowledge of movement behavior to restore functional connectivity.
While restoring structural connectivity requires changing the spatial layout of the landscape, functional connectivity facilitates animal movement by manipulating resources through knowledge of specific movement behaviors. Doherty and Driscoll advocate for conservation strategies that consider species internal states, navigation capacity, and motion capacity to maintain the movement of species through large farms.
This requires an understanding of the natural history of species and creating management plans accordingly. For example, the search behavior of cactus bugs is directed by olfactory cues released from their host plant, the Opuntia cactus. Therefore, the movement of cactus bugs could be maintained by planting Opuntia cactuses within a farm.
Other species navigate by following rows in a landscape. In such cases, crop rows could be oriented to connect patches of habitat. For flightless or immobile species, such as plants, translocation of individuals may be necessary to support connectivity among patches.
The goals of conservation projects vary greatly, and this study suggests that changing the structure of a landscape is not always required for directed conservation. These management strategies could work well for threatened species, well-studied species, or groups of species that use similar behaviors. In other situations, incorporating structural connectivity may be a more inclusive approach.
None of these are catch-all solutions, but they are useful tools for maintaining the movement of certain species in human altered systems. And conservationists need to utilize all the tools available to protect biodiversity in a fragmented world.
Doherty, T. S. and Driscoll, D. A. 2018. Coupling movement and landscape ecology for animal conservation in production landscapes. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.2272.
Schooley, R. L. and Wiens J. A. 2003. Finding habitat patches and directional connectivity. Oikos 102: 559-570.