Research Article

Landscape Ecology

, Volume 29, Issue 5, pp 831-841

First online:

Circuit theory emphasizes the importance of edge-crossing decisions in dispersal-scale movements of a forest passerine

  • V. St-LouisAffiliated withDepartment of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, University of MinnesotaMNDNR Wildlife Biometrics Unit Email author 
  • , J. D. ForesterAffiliated withDepartment of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, University of Minnesota
  • , D. PelletierAffiliated withDepartment of Natural Resource Sciences and McGill School of Environment, McGill University
  • , M. BélisleAffiliated withChaire de recherche du Canada en écologie spatiale et en écologie du paysage, Département de biologie, Université de Sherbrooke
  • , A. DesrochersAffiliated withCentre d’étude de la forêt, Faculté de foresterie, de géographie et de géomatique, Université Laval
  • , B. RayfieldAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, McGill University
  • , M. A. WulderAffiliated withCanadian Forest Service, Pacific Forestry Center
  • , J. A. CardilleAffiliated withDepartment of Natural Resource Sciences and McGill School of Environment, McGill University

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Measuring landscape connectivity in ways that reflect an animal’s propensity or reluctance to move across a given landscape is key for planning effective conservation strategies. Resistance distance, based on circuit theory, is one such measure relevant for modeling how broad-scale animal movements over long time periods may lead to gene flow across the landscape. Despite the success of circuit theory in landscape genetic studies, its applicability to model finer-scale processes such as the movement patterns of individual animals within their breeding grounds (e.g., while prospecting for territories) has yet to be tested. Here, we applied both circuit models and least-cost models to understand the relationship between landscape connectivity and return time of Ovenbirds (Seiurus aurocapilla) that had been translocated at least 20 km from their home territory near Québec City, Canada. Using an iterative optimization process, we derived resistance values for three cover types (forest, edge, and open) that resulted in resistance distance values that best explained Ovenbird return times. We also identified the cover-type resistance values that yielded length of least-cost path estimates that best explained return times of the translocated birds. The circuit theory and least-cost path methods were equally supported by the data despite being based on different sets of resistance values. The optimal resistance values for calculating resistance distance indicated that for Ovenbirds, traversing a given distance of edge habitat presented a substantially greater resistance than that of open areas. On the other hand, optimized resistances of edge and open were very similar for calculating length of least-cost path. The circuit theory approach suggested that for an Ovenbird moving through fragmented habitat, the number of forest-open transitions (i.e., edge-crossings) that an individual must make is critical to understanding return times after translocation. The least-cost path approach, on the other hand, suggested that the birds strongly avoid all open areas, regardless of size. Circuit theory offers an important new approach for understanding landscapes from the perspective of individuals moving within their breeding range, at finer spatial scales and shorter time scales than have been previously considered.


Landscape functional connectivity Circuit theory Least-cost path Forest birds Ovenbirds Edge-crossing decisions Cost surface