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Linking Landscape Connectivity and Ecosystem Service Provision: Current Knowledge and Research Gaps

Abstract

Human activities are rapidly changing ecosystems, landscapes and ecosystem service provision, yet there remain significant gaps in our understanding of the spatial ecology of ecosystem services. These gaps hinder our ability to manage landscapes effectively for multiple ecosystem services. In particular, we do not fully understand how changes in landscape connectivity affect ecosystem service provision, despite theory suggesting that connectivity is important. Here, we perform a semi-quantitative review of the literature that investigates how landscape connectivity affects the provision of specific ecosystem services. The vast majority of studies, including reviews, models, and field studies, suggest that decreased connectivity will have negative effects on ecosystem service provision. However, only 15 studies provided empirical evidence of these effects. Average effect sizes from these 15 studies suggest negative effects of connectivity loss on pollination and pest regulation. We identify a number of significant gaps in the connectivity-ecosystem services literature, including: a lack of multiple service studies, which precludes identification of trade-offs between services as connectivity changes; few studies that directly measure organism movement and its effects on ecosystem services; and few empirical studies that investigate the importance of abiotic flows on service provision. We propose that future research should aim to understand how different aspects of connectivity affect ecosystem service provision; which services are most influenced by connectivity; and how connectivity influences how humans access and benefit from ecosystem services. Studies that answer these questions will advance our understanding of connectivity-ecosystem service provision relationships and allow for better ecosystem and landscape management and restoration.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by an NSERC PGS-D scholarship to MGEM and an NSERC Strategic Projects Grant to EMB and AG. AG is supported by the Canada Research Chair Program. We thank G. MacDonald and two anonymous reviewers for their comments, which helped improve the paper.

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Correspondence to Matthew G. E. Mitchell.

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Author Contributions

MGEM, EMB, AG: Conceived of or designed study; MGEM: performed research; MGEM: analyzed data; MGEM, EMB, AG: contributed new methods or models; MGEM, EMB, AG: wrote the paper.

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Mitchell, M.G.E., Bennett, E.M. & Gonzalez, A. Linking Landscape Connectivity and Ecosystem Service Provision: Current Knowledge and Research Gaps. Ecosystems 16, 894–908 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-013-9647-2

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Key words

  • biodiversity
  • connectivity
  • ecosystem management
  • ecosystem services
  • fragmentation
  • landscape
  • dispersal