Landscape Ecology

, Volume 25, Issue 10, pp 1547–1560 | Cite as

Maintaining or restoring connectivity of modified landscapes: evaluating the least-cost path model with multiple sources of ecological information

Research Article


Habitat connectivity is an important element of functioning landscapes for mobile organisms. Maintenance or creation of movement corridors is one conservation strategy for reducing the negative effects of habitat fragmentation. Numerous spatial models exist to predict the location of movement corridors. Few studies, however, have investigated the effectiveness of these methods for predicting actual movement paths. We used an expert-based model and a resource selection function (RSF) to predict least-cost paths of woodland caribou. Using independent data for model evaluation, we found that the expert-based model was a poor predictor of long-distance animal movements; in comparison, the RSF model was effective at predicting habitat selection by caribou. We used the Path Deviation Index (PDI), cumulative path cost, and sinuosity to quantitatively compare the spatial differences between inferred caribou movement paths and predicted least-cost paths, and quasi-random null models of directional movement. Predicted movement paths were on average straighter than inferred movement paths for collared caribou. The PDI indicated that the least-cost paths were no better at predicting the inferred paths than either of two null models—straight line paths and randomly generated paths. We found statistically significant differences in cumulative cost scores for the main effects of model and path type; however, post-hoc comparisons were non-significant suggesting no difference among inferred, random, and predicted least cost paths. Paths generated from an expert based cost surface were more sinuous than those premised on the RSF model, but neither differed from the inferred path. Although our results are specific to one species, they highlight the importance of model evaluation when planning for habitat connectivity. We recommend that conservation planners adopt similar techniques when validating the effectiveness of movement corridors for other populations and species.


Animal movement Corridor Expert-based model Fragmentation Least-cost path Path deviation index Resource selection function 



We thank M. Gillingham and J. Kirkpatrick for insightful comments during the development of this paper. P. Beier and two anonymous reviewers provided a thorough review of the manuscript. Following submission, the Coordinating Editor, H. Wagner, skilfully navigated the paper through the review process and was instrumental in improving the final version. S. McNay kindly donated unpublished caribou locations that allowed us to evaluate the predictions of the RSF and expert-based models.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Geography and Environmental StudiesUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  2. 2.Ecosystem Science and Management ProgramUniversity of Northern British ColumbiaPrince GeorgeCanada

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