Habitat suitability does not capture the essence of animal-defined corridors

  • Scharf A
  • Belant J
  • Beyer D
  • et al.
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Abstract

Increases in landscape connectivity can improve a species’ ability to cope with habitat fragmentation and degradation. Wildlife corridors increase landscape connectivity and it is therefore important to identify and maintain them. Currently, corridors are mostly identified using methods that rely on generic habitat suitability measures. One important and widely held assumption is that corridors represent swaths of suitable habitat connecting larger patches of suitable habitat in an otherwise unsuitable environment. Using high-resolution GPS data of four large carnivore species, we identified corridors based on animal movement behavior within each individual’s home range and quantified the spatial overlap of these corridors. We thus tested whether corridors were in fact spatial bottle necks in habitat suitability surrounded by unsuitable habitat, and if they could be characterized by their coarse-scale environmental composition. We found that most individuals used corridors within their home ranges and that several corridors were used simultaneously by individuals of the same species, but also by individuals of different species. When we compared the predicted habitat suitability of corridors and their immediate surrounding area we found, however, no differences. We could not find a direct correspondence between corridors chosen and used by wildlife on the one hand, and a priori habitat suitability measurements on the other hand. This leads us to speculate that identifying corridors relying on typically-used habitat suitability methods alone may misplace corridors at the level of space use within an individual’s home range. We suggest future studies to rely more on movement data to directly identify wildlife corridors based on the observed behavior of the animals.

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Scharf, A. K., Belant, J. L., Beyer, D. E., Wikelski, M., & Safi, K. (2018). Habitat suitability does not capture the essence of animal-defined corridors. Movement Ecology, 6(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40462-018-0136-2

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