Restoration as a tool to increase landscape connectivity

Restoring degraded habitat is a key management tool for improving connectivity in the landscape.  However, no single restoration action is effective in every landscape, and even the best plans for restoration can run into roadblocks due to cost, implementation, or changing management priorities.  Recent research provides ideas for how to better use restoration as a tool so that connectivity – and the landscape as a whole – benefits.

One way that restoration activities can more effectively incorporate connectivity is by considering genetic data.  Incorporating genetic studies of connectivity into restoration planning has the potential to improve the landscape in several ways: by comparing historical and contemporary gene flow to establish a baseline target for restoring connectivity, by using empirical data rather than expert opinion to improve existing restoration tools, and by targeting restoration actions to remove barriers and mitigate pinch-points.

As always, collaboration between multiple stakeholders – geneticists, restoration ecologists, and management decision makers – ensures that the science translates into on-the-ground actions that lead to better conservation.

Rondônia, BrazilA major consideration of restoration is always cost, particularly in large landscapes.  Restoring forested landscapes at a large scale, where human intervention has often stripped forest cover in favor of livestock and agriculture, is a major global conservation goal.  However, making large-scale forest restoration cost-effective in a way that ensures outcomes such as carbon-stocking and increased connectivity is a huge challenge.

A new landscape approach that considers the cost of large-scale restoration provides a way to optimize cost-effectiveness across a variety of restoration strategies, using Brazil’s Atlantic Forest region as a case study.  Aspects such as the probability of natural regeneration, restoration costs, land opportunity costs, and the need for outcomes such as increased connectivity all factor in to the cost and viability of a strategy.  The cost-reduction approach presented is more effective in many cases than focusing solely on other strategies, such as the conservation and restoration of riparian buffers that are legally-mandated in Brazil.

In some cases, restoration is not necessarily the only option.  Management decisions often require a trade-off between several possible actions.  When the goal is to improve landscape connectivity, one key question is whether to focus efforts on restoring already existing corridors, or to create new corridors in the landscape instead.

To answer this question, a recent study looked at the movement of the Hazel Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) in a fragmented agroecosystem in northern Italy.  The Hazel Dormouse is sensitive to fragmentation, and hedgerows planted around crop fields can help in their conservation.  Simulations from the study compared the extent to which connectivity increased for the Hazel Dormouse when restoring current hedgerows versus creating new ones.

Results showed that implementing new corridors in the landscape led to substantially larger connectivity gains (+38%) than when restoration focused on already existing corridors (+11%).  Using this analytical approach, management decisions can be more effective by going beyond just identifying important connections in the landscape, to prioritizing how and where restoration or new implementation should occur.

Resources

Dondina O, Saura S, Bani L, and Mateo-Sánchez MC. 2018. Enhancing connectivity in agroecosystems: focus on the best existing corridors or on new pathways? Landscape Ecology 33(10):1741-56.

Jellinek S, Wilson KA, Hagger V, Mumaw L, Cooke B, Guerrero AM, Erickson TE, Zamin T, Waryszak P, and Standish RJ. 2018. Integrating diverse social and ecological motivations to achieve landscape restoration. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13248.

Molin PG, Chazdon R, Frosini de Barros Ferraz S, and Brancalion PH. 2018. A landscape approach for cost‐effective large‐scale forest restoration. Journal of Applied Ecology 55(6):2767-78.

Proft KM, Jones ME, Johnson CN, and Burridge CP. 2018. Making the connection: expanding the role of restoration genetics in restoring and evaluating connectivity. Restoration Ecology 26(3):411-8.

2018-11-09T20:42:54+00:00 October 30th, 2018|

About the Author:

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