Past and predicted future effects of housing growth on open space conservation opportunity areas and habitat connectivity around National Wildlife Refuges

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Abstract

Context: Housing growth can alter suitability of matrix habitats around protected areas, strongly affecting movements of organisms and, consequently, threatening connectivity of protected area networks. Objectives: Our goal was to quantify distribution and growth of housing around the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge System. This is important information for conservation planning, particularly given promotion of habitat connectivity as a climate change adaptation measure. Methods: We quantified housing growth from 1940 to 2000 and projected future growth to 2030 within three distances from refuges, identifying very low housing density open space, “opportunity areas” (contiguous areas with <6.17 houses/km2), both nationally and by USFWS administrative region. Additionally, we quantified number and area of habitat corridors within these opportunity areas in 2000. Results: Our results indicated that the number and area of open space opportunity areas generally decreased with increasing distance from refuges and with the passage of time. Furthermore, total area in habitat corridors was much lower than in opportunity areas. In addition, the number of corridors sometimes exceeded number of opportunity areas as a result of habitat fragmentation, indicating corridors are likely vulnerable to land use change. Finally, regional differences were strong and indicated some refuges may have experienced so much housing growth already that they are effectively too isolated to adapt to climate change, while others may require extensive habitat restoration work. Conclusions: Wildlife refuges are increasingly isolated by residential housing development, potentially constraining the movement of wildlife and, therefore, their ability to adapt to a changing climate.

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Hamilton, C. M., Baumann, M., Pidgeon, A. M., Helmers, D. P., Thogmartin, W. E., Heglund, P. J., & Radeloff, V. C. (2016). Past and predicted future effects of housing growth on open space conservation opportunity areas and habitat connectivity around National Wildlife Refuges. Landscape Ecology, 31(9), 2175–2186. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-016-0392-8

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