, Volume 24, Issue 8, pp 1053-1065

Landscape ecology as a foundation for sustainable conservation

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Abstract

Landscape ecology and conservation share a common focus on places, but they differ in their perspectives about what is important about those places, and the integration of landscape ecology into conservation is far from complete. I consider four ways in which landscape ecology can contribute to conservation. First, protected areas that are established for conservation are not stand-alone isolates. They exist in the context of broader landscape mosaics, which may encourage or discourage movements of individuals into and out of an area. Second, the landscape surroundings of a preserve may contain threats to the biodiversity within the preserve, many of them consequences of human activities. In combination, these relationships with the surroundings may make the “effective area” of a preserve different from that shown on a map. Third, the scale of an administrative area or of management action may not coincide with the scales of populations, disturbances, or ecological processes, creating challenges to both landscape ecology and conservation. Finally, landscapes encompass people and their activities; sustainability of conservation requires consideration of the tradeoffs between human uses and the biodiversity values of a landscape. I illustrate these four themes with a case study of the management of prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) in the Great Plains of North America, where the tensions between conservation and human land uses are particularly high. Ecologists and conservationists consider prairie dogs as keystone species in these grassland ecosystems and primary targets for conservation, but many private landowners regard them as varmints that consume valuable livestock forage and degrade rangeland condition. Effective conservation of functioning grasslands must include prairie dogs, and this in turn requires that the issues be addressed in terms of the biological, social, and cultural features of entire landscapes. Important as they are, areas protected for conservation cannot by themselves stem the tide of global biodiversity loss. The perspective must be broadened to include the landscapes where people live and work, recognizing the dynamic nature of landscapes and the factors driving land-use change. Landscape ecologists must work together to overcome the cultural differences between their disciplines, and between academic science and conservation practice and management. It can, and must, be done.