Enhancing connectivity in agroecosystems: focus on the best existing corridors or on new pathways?
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Restoring or establishing corridors between residual forest patches is one of the most adopted strategies for the conservation of animal populations and ecosystem processes in fragmented landscapes.
This study aimed to assess whether it is more effective to focus restoration actions on existing corridors or to establish habitats in other strategic areas that can create new dispersal pathways to enhance connectivity.
We considered a real agroecosystem in northern Italy, based our analyses on graph-theory and habitat availability metrics, and focused on the Hazel Dormouse as the target species. We compared the connectivity increase resulting from (i) the simulated restoration of existing priority corridors, i.e., those with significant presence of forest but in which restoration actions would still result in considerable connectivity gains, or (ii) the simulated plantation of 30 hedgerows along new priority pathways, i.e., those areas with no current forest cover in which habitat creation would be more beneficial for connectivity.
Implementing new priority pathways resulted in substantially larger connectivity gains (+ 38%) than when restoration efforts were concentrated in improving already existing corridors (+ 11%).
Establishing hedgerows along new pathways allowed enhancing the complementary and functionality of the full set of landscape corridors and proved more efficient than just strengthening the areas where dispersal flows were already concentrated. We demonstrated the importance of analytical procedures able to compare the effectiveness of different management strategies for enhancing connectivity. Our approach may be applied to multiple species sensitive to fragmentation in other heterogeneous landscapes and geographical contexts.
KeywordsEcological networks Forest fragmentation Habitat availability metrics Hazel Dormouse Hedgerows Wildlife corridors
This study was supported by the PhD Funds of the University of Milano-Bicocca.
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