Prioritization of habitat patches for landscape connectivity conservation differs between least-cost and resistance distances
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Methods quantifying habitat patch importance for maintaining habitat network connectivity have been emphasized in helping to prioritize conservation actions. Functional connectivity is accepted as depending on landscape resistance, and several measures of functional inter-patch distance have been designed. However, how the inter-patch distance, i.e., based on least-cost path or multiple paths, influences the identification of key habitat patches has not been explored.
We compared the prioritization of habitat patches according to least-cost distance (LCD) and resistance distance (RD), using common binary and probabilistic connectivity metrics.
Our comparison was based on a generic functional group of forest mammals with different dispersal distances, and was applied to two landscapes differing in their spatial extent and fragmentation level.
We found that habitat patch prioritization did not depend on distance type when considering the role of patch as contributing to dispersal fluxes. However, the role of patch as a connector facilitating dispersal might be overestimated by LCD-based indices compared with RD for short- and medium-distance dispersal. In particular, when prioritization was based on dispersal probability, the consideration of alternatives routes identified the connectors that probably provided functional connectivity for species in the long term. However, the use of LCD might help identify landscape areas that need critical restoration to improve individual dispersal.
Our results provide new insights about the way that inter-patch distance is viewed changes the evaluation of functional connectivity. Accordingly, prioritization methods should be carefully selected according to assumptions about population functioning and conservation aims.
KeywordsGraph theory Connectivity indices Least-cost path Resistance distance Circuit theory Species dispersal
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