Habitat Connectivity in Conservation Biology. Ecological Connection and Continuity of Animal Communities and Populations

A special issue of Land (ISSN 2073-445X). This special issue belongs to the section "Landscape Ecology".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 January 2023) | Viewed by 19765

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
National Center for Wildlife, Al Imam Faisal Ibn Turki Ibn Abdullah, Ulaishah, Riyadh 12746, Saudi Arabia
Interests: wildlife conservation; wildlife ecology; conservation biology; biodiversity; carnivores; lagomorphs; ungulates; medium and large mammals; human-wildlife interactions
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Torre Flavia’ LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) Station, Protected Areas–Regional Park Service, Città Metropolitana di Roma Capitale, Viale G. Ribotta 41, 00144 Rome, Italy
Interests: quantitative ecology; biogeography; problem solving in wildlife management; wetland ecology and management; habitat fragmentation and ecological network planning
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

It is an established fact that wildlife, especially vertebrates, is suffering in an era where the erosion and degradation of natural habitats are fatal for conservation. Beyond this, the progressive warming of the planet, combined with the rapid numerical growth of the human species, leads to the conservation of natural habitats and fauna becoming increasingly problematic. In this scenario, a possible approach to prevent, or at least contain the extinction of evident animal species, often charismatic or keystone species, is the development and increase of the connection zones between protected areas; in any case, this is important ecologically for the vertebrate fauna. Vertebrates, and many other groups, benefit from ecological connection, i.e., the management of the landscape and of protected areas or areas subjected to some preserving management. Actions aimed to improve the connectivity span, by enlarging habitat fragments, reducing its degradation induced by the surrounding landscape matrix, improving connectivity by reducing isolation induced by barriers, managing and improving habitat quality inside the isolated habitats, and so on. 

To achieve this, it is necessary to reduce the fragmentation of protected areas and/or important for the conservation of animal species and communities, with particular emphasis on those species that migrate or move more or less periodically, or that tend to expand their range, as almost always happens.

An often-underestimated aspect of these operations, which involve legislative acts and complex social and economic actions, is the participation and involvement of the local populations who live together in the territories involved. Therefore, the creation of connecting areas and their conservation, at various levels, must also be compatible with human activities and development. The careful management of these networks and ecological connection areas, often referred to as ecological corridors, is therefore essential. Moreover, landscape and environmental planning can be useful in this regard. For example, ecological network planning is a wide arena, in which a large number of concepts and tools are available (e.g., individuation and management of core areas, buffers, corridors, steppingstones; selection of focal sensitive species for monitoring, etc.).

This Special Issue of Land aims to be a container of high-level contributions, both of a general and/or theoretical type (as metanalyses or review), and of an applicative nature, with case studies in which examples are analyzed, where targeted interventions on connectivity have improved wildlife conservation.

The purpose of this special volume of Land is to present new data and deepen the discussion of the connection between protected areas, and therefore of the related habitats present. In particular, we want to address the issue of the importance, through different points of view, of these environmental conservation operations, as indispensable and lasting means for the conservation of animal communities, with particular reference to all vertebrates, including large mammals. The aspect of the management of these ecological connection areas should also be a topic of discussion in this Special Issue, with particular reference to the involvement of the human populations that inhabit the areas subject to conservation, planning and management.

All contributions must fall within the principles and aims of Landtopics, purpose and ethics.

Prof. Dr. Francesco M. Angelici
Dr. Corrado Battisti

Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Land is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2600 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • fragmentation
  • connectivity
  • habitat corridors
  • protected areas
  • wildlife conservation
  • mammals
  • birds
  • reptiles
  • migrations
  • biodiversity conservation
  • positive effects
  • human involvement and coexistence

Published Papers (7 papers)

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20 pages, 2459 KiB  
Article
Management of U.S. Agricultural Lands Differentially Affects Avian Habitat Connectivity
by Justin P. Suraci, Tina G. Mozelewski, Caitlin E. Littlefield, Theresa Nogeire McRae, Ann Sorensen and Brett G. Dickson
Land 2023, 12(4), 746; https://doi.org/10.3390/land12040746 - 26 Mar 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1487
Abstract
Despite frequently being implicated in species declines, agricultural lands may nonetheless play an important role in connecting wildlife populations by serving as movement corridors or stopover sites between areas of high-quality habitat. For many North American bird species, agricultural intensification over the past [...] Read more.
Despite frequently being implicated in species declines, agricultural lands may nonetheless play an important role in connecting wildlife populations by serving as movement corridors or stopover sites between areas of high-quality habitat. For many North American bird species, agricultural intensification over the past half century has substantially impacted populations, yet recent studies have noted the potential for supporting avian biodiversity on agricultural lands through the promotion of functional connectivity. To support avian conservation efforts on agricultural lands across the United States, we used publicly available data from eBird to quantify and map the effects of agriculture on habitat suitability (using random forest models) and functional connectivity (via circuit theory) for three focal species that have experienced agriculture-linked declines or range contractions in recent decades: Greater Sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), American Black Duck (Anas rubripes), and Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus). Our analysis drew on novel, remotely sensed estimates of agricultural management intensity to quantify the effects of management practices on avian habitat and movement, revealing complex, species-specific relationships between agriculture and habitat value for the three focal species. Rangelands and croplands exhibited relatively high connectivity values for Greater Sage-grouse and Bobolink, respectively, mirroring these species’ strong habitat preferences for open sagebrush and cultivated grasslands. By contrast, American Black Duck migratory connectivity was low on all agricultural cover types. Mapping our model results across each species’ geographic range in the U.S. revealed key areas for agricultural management action to preserve high-quality habitat and connectivity, and we link these spatial recommendations to government incentive programs that can be used to increase wildlife-friendly management on U.S. agricultural lands. Full article
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10 pages, 1186 KiB  
Article
Flower Margins: Attractiveness over Time for Different Pollinator Groups
by Claire Brittain, Szabolcs Benke, Rozalia Pecze, Simon G. Potts, Francisco Javier Peris-Felipo and Vasileios P. Vasileiadis
Land 2022, 11(11), 1933; https://doi.org/10.3390/land11111933 - 30 Oct 2022
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2664
Abstract
Supporting biodiversity in agricultural landscapes is key from both a conservation and ecosystem services perspective. Planting flower margins along crop field edges is one of the most established approaches to try and improve habitat and resources for insect pollinators on farms. Whilst there [...] Read more.
Supporting biodiversity in agricultural landscapes is key from both a conservation and ecosystem services perspective. Planting flower margins along crop field edges is one of the most established approaches to try and improve habitat and resources for insect pollinators on farms. Whilst there is growing evidence that these margins can result in increased pollinator abundance and diversity on farms in the short-term, there is little data looking at how these margins perform over longer periods. This study looked at the utilization of pollinator-friendly margins over time in an agricultural landscape in Hungary. ‘Operation Pollinator’ seed mixes with 12 species, were used at 96 farms in Hungary from 2010 to 2018. Insect pollinators were recorded on the sown flower margins and control margins (with naturally occurring vegetation) using walked transects. Repeated sampling of the margins was done over several years so that data was collected on margins from 0 (planted that season) to 7 years old. The abundance of pollinators in the Operation Pollinator flower margins was greater than in control margins for all groups recorded (honey bees, bumble bees, mining bees, trap-nesting bees, hoverflies and Lepidoptera). The biggest relative increase in abundance was in honey bees (768% increase in average abundance in the flower margin compared to the control across all observations), with mining (566%) and bumble bees (414%) showing the next largest increases. The abundance of bumble bees, trap-nesting bees and Lepidoptera in the margins did not vary with the age of the margin. Honey bees, mining bees and hoverflies all decreased in abundance with increasing margin age, as did flower abundance. The results suggest that for some pollinator groups, regardless of age, flower margins provide important resources in the agricultural landscape. However, this is not universally true and for certain pollinator groups, some re-sowing of the margins may be needed to sustain longer-term benefits. Full article
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18 pages, 2535 KiB  
Article
Coexistence of Native and Invasive Freshwater Turtles: The Llobregat Delta (NE Iberian Peninsula) as a Case Study
by Marc Franch, Gustavo A. Llorente, Maria Rieradevall, Albert Montori and Miguel Cañedo-Argüelles
Land 2022, 11(9), 1582; https://doi.org/10.3390/land11091582 - 16 Sep 2022
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 2380
Abstract
The global degradation of wetlands is increasing their susceptibility to invasions, which is greatly determined by a niche overlap between native and invasive species. We analyze its role in regulating the coexistence of the native Mediterranean stripe-necked terrapin Mauremys leprosa and the invasive [...] Read more.
The global degradation of wetlands is increasing their susceptibility to invasions, which is greatly determined by a niche overlap between native and invasive species. We analyze its role in regulating the coexistence of the native Mediterranean stripe-necked terrapin Mauremys leprosa and the invasive Red-eared Slider Trachemys scripta elegans in a coastal wetland. We analyzed both water chemistry and landscape attributes, using variance-partitioning analysis to isolate the variance explained by each set of variables. Then, the influence of environmental variables on species co-occurrence patterns was assessed by using latent variable models (LVM), which account for correlation between species that may be attributable to biotic interactions or missing environmental covariates. The species showed a very low niche overlap, with clear differences in their response to environmental and landscape filters. The distribution of T. s. elegans was largely explained by landscape variables, preferring uniform landscapes within the daily movement buffer, whereas at larger scales, it was associated with a high diversity of habitats of small and uniform relative sizes. A high percentage of the distribution of M. leprosa was unexplained by the measured variables and may be related to the competitive exclusion processes with T. s. elegans. The species was positively related with large patches with high perimeter values or ecotone area at medium spatial scales, and it was benefited from a marked heterogeneity in the patches’ size at larger scale. According to latent variable models, both species had wide eutrophication and salinity tolerance ranges, but they showed different environmental preferences. T. s. elegans was related to eutrophic freshwater environments, whereas M. leprosa was related to more saline and less eutrophic waters. Our results suggest that M. leprosa modifies its habitat use in order to avoid interaction with the T. s. elegans. Thus, management actions aimed at removing the invasive species from the territory and promoting habitat heterogeneity might be needed to protect M. leprosa and avoid local extinctions. Full article
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20 pages, 2285 KiB  
Article
Land Use/Cover Change Reduces Elephant Habitat Suitability in the Wami Mbiki–Saadani Wildlife Corridor, Tanzania
by Lucas Theodori Ntukey, Linus Kasian Munishi, Edward Kohi and Anna Christina Treydte
Land 2022, 11(2), 307; https://doi.org/10.3390/land11020307 - 17 Feb 2022
Cited by 13 | Viewed by 3838
Abstract
Wildlife corridors are critical for maintaining the viability of isolated wildlife populations and conserving ecosystem functionality. Anthropogenic pressure has negatively impacted wildlife habitats, particularly in corridors between protected areas, but few studies have yet quantitatively assessed habitat changes and corresponding wildlife presence. We [...] Read more.
Wildlife corridors are critical for maintaining the viability of isolated wildlife populations and conserving ecosystem functionality. Anthropogenic pressure has negatively impacted wildlife habitats, particularly in corridors between protected areas, but few studies have yet quantitatively assessed habitat changes and corresponding wildlife presence. We quantified land use/land cover and human–elephant conflict trends over the past two decades in the Wami Mbiki–Saadani (WMS) wildlife corridor, Tanzania, using RS and GIS combined with human–wildlife conflict reports. We designed landscape metrics and habitat suitability models for the African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) as a large mammal key species in the WMS ecosystem. Our results showed that forest cover, a highly suitable habitat for elephants, decreased by 3.0% between 1998 and 2008 and 20.3% between 2008 and 2018. Overall, the highly suitable habitat for elephants decreased by 22.4% from 1998 to 2018, when it was scarcely available and when small fragmented patches dominated the unprotected parts of the corridor. Our findings revealed that large mammalian habitat conservation requires approaches beyond habitat-loss detection and must consider other facets of landscape patterns. We suggest strengthening elephant habitat conservation through community conservation awareness, wildlife corridor mapping, and restoration practices to ensure a sustainable pathway to human–wildlife coexistence. Full article
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18 pages, 6068 KiB  
Article
Variations in the Distribution and Genetic Relationships among Luciola unmunsana Populations in South Korea
by Tae-Su Kim, Kwanik Kwon and Gab-Sue Jang
Land 2021, 10(7), 730; https://doi.org/10.3390/land10070730 - 12 Jul 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1887
Abstract
The firefly species Luciola unmunsana was first discovered on the Unmunsan Mountain in Cheongdo-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea and consequently named after the mountain. The population and habitats of this once-abundant species have recently decreased significantly due to light and environmental pollution caused by [...] Read more.
The firefly species Luciola unmunsana was first discovered on the Unmunsan Mountain in Cheongdo-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea and consequently named after the mountain. The population and habitats of this once-abundant species have recently decreased significantly due to light and environmental pollution caused by industrialization and urbanization. This study investigated the distribution and density of L. unmunsana around the ecological landscape conservation area of the Unmunsan Mountain. Additionally, we conducted molecular experiments on regional variations, genetic diversity and phylogenetic relationships among the various populations of L. unmunsana in South Korea. The genetic relationships among populations were also analyzed using mitochondrial DNA by collecting 15 male adults from each of the 10 regions across South Korea selected for analysis. Differences were observed between populations in the east, west and south of the Baekdudaegan Mountain Range. The firefly populations collected from the eastern region, which included Gyeongsang-do, showed a close genetic relationship with fireflies collected from the Unmunsan Mountain. Thus, the findings of this study can be used as baseline data for re-introducing L. unmunsana to the Unmunsan Mountain. Full article
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22 pages, 4832 KiB  
Article
Assessing the Role of Kettle Holes for Providing and Connecting Amphibian Habitats in Agricultural Landscapes
by Biljana Savić, Alevtina Evgrafova, Cenk Donmez, Filip Vasić, Michael Glemnitz and Carsten Paul
Land 2021, 10(7), 692; https://doi.org/10.3390/land10070692 - 30 Jun 2021
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 3653
Abstract
The intensification of agriculture over the last few decades has caused habitat loss, which poses a significant threat to the survival of populations and species. Where habitats are connected, populations may escape the destruction of their habitat by migrating to another one. Consequently, [...] Read more.
The intensification of agriculture over the last few decades has caused habitat loss, which poses a significant threat to the survival of populations and species. Where habitats are connected, populations may escape the destruction of their habitat by migrating to another one. Consequently, the functional connectivity of landscapes has become an important focus for species conservation. Kettle holes are hotspots of biodiversity that provide suitable conditions for wildlife species (i.e., amphibians, insects, aquatic plants) and contribute to landscape heterogeneity. They are also considered to function as stepping stone habitats that contribute to habitat connectivity. This study assesses the contribution of kettle holes for (i) habitat provision and (ii) the functional connectivity of three amphibian species with different movement ranges, and (iii) the study identifies areas where the creation of stepping stone biotopes could improve functional connectivity. The contribution of kettle holes was assessed using GIS-based clustering within three research areas in Germany. It was found that the importance of kettle holes for providing amphibian habitats in the three studied areas was equal to or higher than that of other wetland habitats. The state of functional connectivity and the contribution of kettle holes differed strongly depending on the species’ range. For the short-range species, landscapes were highly fragmented, and the contribution of kettle holes was much smaller than that of corridor habitats. For the long-range species, all habitats suited for amphibian reproduction were connected, and the contribution of kettle holes was similar to that of corridor habitats. However, the contribution of both was mostly redundant. Overall, the results showed that kettle holes play a crucial role in habitat provision and function as important stepping stone biotopes in agricultural landscapes. The clustering method applied in this study provides a simple tool for landscape planning and environmental protection agencies, which can be easily adapted to analyze functional connectivity and habitat interactions for different species or landscapes. Full article
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10 pages, 2093 KiB  
Brief Report
Habitat Fragmentation, Connectivity Conservation and Related Key-Concepts: Temporal Trends in Their Recurrences on Web of Science (1960–2020)
by Corrado Battisti, Luca Gallitelli, Massimiliano Scalici and Francesco M. Angelici
Land 2022, 11(2), 230; https://doi.org/10.3390/land11020230 - 3 Feb 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2217
Abstract
In this work, we analyzed the temporal trends of nine selected key terms used in the habitat fragmentation arena, quantifying their number (and frequency) of recurrence on Web of Science from 1960 to 2020. The most used key (focal) terms (“stepping stones”, “habitat [...] Read more.
In this work, we analyzed the temporal trends of nine selected key terms used in the habitat fragmentation arena, quantifying their number (and frequency) of recurrence on Web of Science from 1960 to 2020. The most used key (focal) terms (“stepping stones”, “habitat corridors”, “landscape connectivity”), showed a progressive increase from 1981 to 2020, with “landscape connectivity” showing the highest increase in frequency in the last decade (2011–2020). Among the key secondary terms (recurring < 5%), although “corridors”, “continuity”, and “contiguity” showed a slight growth over the decades, “connectivity conservation” showed the most significant increase. This last landscape-related term recently replaced other local-scale concepts (as “stepping stones” and “corridors”) as a consequence of a change of perspective. Conversely, “ecological network planning”, used in landscape planning and less in conservation biology, showed a comparable fewer recurrence. This gap in recurrences could be due to a bias in our research approach, as Web of Science is a search engine that does not intercept grey literature (as plans and reports) drawn up by Public Agencies which rarely appears in scientific journals. Full article
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