Conserving Nature’s Stages and Helping Wildlife Move between Them

ROOM: Room 230 – Pecos
Climate change is shifting the distribution of wildlife and plants challenging conservationists to identify and design land-based conservation networks that will sustain biological diversity while facilitating and accommodating expected range changes. A promising approach is to focus on the enduring geophysical features that create diversity in the first place (soils, geology, landforms, moisture, microclimates) in combination with continuous approaches to connectivity that don’t require known starting or ending points. In this symposium, researchers and practitioners involved in designing conservation networks will share their approaches and highlight recent advances in mapping connectivity for multiple species.

10:30AM Achieving Climate Connectivity in a Fragmented Landscape
  Jenny McGuire; Joshua Lawler; Brad McRae; Tristan Nuñez; David Theobald
Today’s landscape is fragmented by roads, cities and farms. Within the United States, these disturbed areas transect millions of acres of natural habitats where plants and animals thrive. Many of the organisms living within these natural patches will need to track their preferred habitats as climates shift. We examine to what extent fragmented landscapes prevent those organisms living in natural patches from tracking their current temperatures across the contiguous US. Using human impact values, we identify remaining tracts of relatively natural lands across the contiguous U.S. We then calculate the coolest temperature that an organism living in a given natural patch could reach by moving through adjacent natural patches. We demonstrate that only 41% of the remaining natural land area retains enough connectivity to allow plants and animals to track current temperatures as the climate warms into the future. In the eastern U.S., less than 2% of natural area is sufficiently connected. We then connect those natural land patches with routes that allow species to move across existing temperature gradients while avoiding heavily impacted areas. Introducing corridors to facilitate movement through human-dominated landscapes increases the percentage of climatically connected natural area to 65%, with a 25% increase in the East and a 24% increase in the West. The most impactful gains occur in low-elevation regions, particularly those in the southeastern U.S. We find that human impacts limit the ability of organisms to track their current temperatures by 24%. This study demonstrates that climate connectivity analyses can allow ecologists and conservation practitioners to determine the most effective regions for increasing landscape connectivity to mitigate the effects of climate change. More importantly, we demonstrate that increasing connectivity is critical for allowing species to track rapidly changing climates.
10:50AM Building Ecological Resilience Through Coordinated Riparian Conservation
  Alexander K. Fremier; Amanda T. Stahl; Barbara Cosens
One of the most significant conservation challenges in the 21st century is to improve the probability of species survival given increasingly dynamic and human-dominated environments. Going forward, land management actions and governance must consider ecological resilience – the ability of species to survive through peak climatic-related events, as well as slowly changing environmental condition, habitat loss and fragmentation. Habitat connectivity is a key attribute of resilience; yet, re-building connectivity has proven a difficult restoration task, in part due to the lack of coordination between entities motivated by resource versus species conservation. We propose building habitat connectivity through further coordinated efforts to protect and restore riparian ecosystems – primarily for soil and water conservation and secondarily for aquatic and terrestrial species. Increased efforts to protect streamside areas reflect society’s acknowledgement that these lands provide key ecosystem services, such as buffering contaminants, hazard mitigation, recreation, and biodiversity. We provide evidence that riparian areas are in a position to connect protected areas, that significant riparian area conservation is already occurring, yet needs to be further coordinated, and that this solution may be accomplished through existing legal, policy and administrative coordination rather than the initiation of new legislation. Furthermore, the goals of riparian restoration projects may be better served if aligned with conservation efforts focused on networked ‘riparian corridors’, as part of a larger landscape connectivity strategy. While much research on the effectiveness of riparian corridors remains to be done, the riparian conservation network concept provides a way to guide restoration strategy to improve connectivity among currently protected areas for both aquatic and terrestrial species, while contributing to resource conservation.
11:10AM Using Abiotic Diversity to Prioritize Biodiverse Core Areas and Define Corridors between Them
  Paul Beier
Conserving Nature’s Stage (CNS) is a coarse filter conservation strategy built around the idea that enduring geophysical features (soils, geology, landforms, topographic moisture, insolation) interact with climate (today’s climate or future climates) to generate and sustain biodiversity. In a CNS approach, abiotically diverse sites are prioritized for conservation core areas and for wildlife corridors. I summarize strong evidence that sites selected for abiotic diversity represent many more species than the same number of randomly selected sites in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine environments. Although there are no direct tests whether abiotically diverse corridors promote animal movement, there are similarly no direct tests of focal-species-based corridors. I summarize pattern-based evidence for utility of CNS corridors, with especially strong evidence for riparian corridors, which are a type of geophysical corridor. I also describe plausible ways to use CNS to design corridors.
11:30AM Capturing Species-Specific Corridors with Land Facets
  Kathy Zeller; Megan Jennings
Range shifts in response to climate change have already been observed in a number of species and this phenomenon is only expected to escalate. To account for these range shifts, conservation practitioners have promoted the identification and maintenance of corridors among current and potential future ranges. A promising method that minimizes the vast uncertainty in climate models and captures underlying biological diversity is to identify corridors based on the connectivity of various geophysical features, or land facets. A handful of studies have shown that land facet corridors adequately represent most species-specific corridors. We add to these studies by comparing the ability of land facets to capture movement corridors designed for six species in a study area in Southern California, USA. We expand upon previous studies by examining not only least-cost corridors, but also resistant kernel and OmniScape corridors. We also discuss the difficulty of accurately defining the landscape for species-specific connectivity modeling and how land facets may be a methodological approach that reduces landscape definition bias.
11:50AM Go with the Flow: Measuring Landscape Permeability to Design Conservation Networks That Facilitate Range Shifts
  Mark Anderson
Climate change is shifting the distribution of wildlife and plants challenging conservationists to design land-based conservation networks that will sustain biological diversity while facilitating and accommodating expected range changes. A promising approach is to focus the design on the enduring geophysical features that create diversity, in combination with continuous connectivity models that treat the landscape as a permeable surface and detect natural flow patterns. We present such a model for the Eastern US and highlight the advantages of this approach for identifying networks of representative sites that collectivity sustain the movement of species among sites. Mapping continuous flow is computationally intensive but breakthroughs in the technology now allow for a landscape permeability analyses across huge regions. In the second half of this talk we will introduce a new open-source software GFLOW, which massively parallelizes the computation of circuit theory-based connectivity. The software scales to consumer grade desktop computers and allows large-extent and high-resolution connectivity problems to be calculated over many iterations and at multiple scales. We envision GFLOW being immediately useful for large-landscape efforts aimed at measuring climate-driven animal range shifts and multitaxa connectivity.

Organizers: Mark Anderson, The Nature Conservancy, Boston, MA; Paul Beier, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff AZ

Location: Albuquerque Convention Center Date: September 27, 2017 Time: 10:30 am - 12:10 pm