A network model framework for prioritizing wetland conservation in the Great Plains
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Playa wetlands are the primary habitat for numerous wetland-dependent species in the Southern Great Plains of North America. Plant and wildlife populations that inhabit these wetlands are reciprocally linked through the dispersal of individuals, propagules and ultimately genes among local populations.
To develop and implement a framework using network models for conceptualizing, representing and analyzing potential biological flows among 48,981 spatially discrete playa wetlands in the Southern Great Plains.
We examined changes in connectivity patterns and assessed the relative importance of wetlands to maintaining these patterns by targeting wetlands for removal based on network centrality metrics weighted by estimates of habitat quality and probability of inundation.
We identified several distinct, broad-scale sub networks and phase transitions among playa wetlands in the Southern Plains. In particular, for organisms that can disperse >2 km a dense and expansive wetland sub network emerges in the Southern High Plains. This network was characterized by localized, densely connected wetland clusters at link distances (h) >2 km but <5 km and was most sensitive to changes in wetland availability (p) and configuration when h = 4 km, and p = 0.2–0.4. It transitioned to a single, large connected wetland system at broader spatial scales even when the proportion of inundated wetland was relatively low (p = 0.2).
Our findings suggest that redundancy in the potential for broad and fine-scale movements insulates this system from damage and facilitates system-wide connectivity among populations with different dispersal capacities.
KeywordsConnectivity Hierarchy Landscape resilience Network analysis Percolation Playa wetland Redundancy
This study was funded by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative research and National Science Foundation Macrosystems (1240646) Grants administered through the U.S. Geological Survey Fort Collins Science Center and Kansas Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit. We gratefully acknowledge additional support provided by the Division of Biology at Kansas State University, S. K. Skagen, D. Hamilton, D. Manier, and L. Burris. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.
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