CIE Spotlight: Monitoring ecological consequences of efforts to restore landscape-scale connectivity

Don D.

Authors: Watson, David M.; Doerr, Veronica A. J.; Banks, Sam C.; Driscoll, Don A.; van der Ree, Rodney; Doerr, Erik D.; Sunnucks, Paul

Source: BIOLOGICAL CONSERVATION, 206 201-209, FEB 2017

Brief summary of the paper: Managing and restoring connectivity that enables wildlife movement through landscapes is the primary approach to reduce harmful effects of habitat loss and fragmentation. Improved connectivity is also increasingly invoked as a strategy to mitigate negative impacts of climate change by enabling species to track preferred environments and maintain evolutionary processes. Although initiatives to improve connectivity using restoration are becoming commonplace, we do not know how successful these actions are, nor which mechanisms underlie biotic responses.

Most ecological monitoring focuses on site condition or quality rather than those landscape-scale processes that connectivity is intended to facilitate. To assess biodiversity responses to connectivity initiatives, we argue that new monitoring approaches are needed that distinguish the roles of connectivity restoration from those of habitat augmentation or improvement.

To address this critical gap, we developed a conceptual model of the hypothesised roles of connectivity in complex landscapes and a linked framework to guide design of connectivity monitoring approaches in an adaptive management context. We demonstrate that integrated monitoring approaches using complementary methods are essential to reveal whether long-term landscape-scale goals are being achieved, and to determine whether connectivity management and restoration are the mechanisms responsible.

We summarize a real-world example of applying our approach to assist government develop a monitoring plan for a large-scale connectivity conservation initiative in the Australian Capital Territory. As well as highlighting the utility of the framework to help managers make informed choices about monitoring, this example illustrates the difficulties of convincing funding bodies to include monitoring in project budgets and the questions more likely to be answered with limited funds.

Synthesis and applications: Implementing an effective strategy to monitor connectivity conservation initiatives necessarily involves more work but we argue it is an essential investment rather than an additional cost. By optimizing allocation of limited monitoring resources, we can more effectively implement management that improves functional connectivity, and understand how changing connectivity affects population persistence.