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Ecological network design from occurrence data by simulating species perception of the landscape

Landscape Ecology


Ecological networks are often designed based on the degree of suitability and permeability of land cover classes, as obtained by estimating the statistical relationships between occurrence data and classes coverage using habitat suitability models (HSMs). Considering only the classes coverage, but not their spatial arrangement, frequently prevents HSMs from correctly identifying nodes and connectivity elements. We propose a new approach in the design of ecological networks starting from the relationship between occurrence data and both land cover classes coverage and spatial arrangement, as calculated for different simulated species perceptions of the landscape (SSPLs, corresponding to different combinations of classes alternatively assuming the role of nodes, connectivity elements, or matrix). The approach consists of comparing the ability to explain the observed species occurrence of both the nodes coverage and the connectivity degree provided by both nodes and connectivity elements, calculated for each SSPL. The better performing SSPL will provide information about the land cover classes that should be considered in designing an ecological network for the species, as well as their role in the network. When applied to the Hazel Dormouse in an agricultural landscape in northern Italy, the method proved effective and allowed us to identify woodlands and hedgerows as nodes, and poplar cultivations, biomasses and reforestations as connectivity elements. The proposed method can be adopted to identify nodes and connectivity elements for virtually every species sensitive to fragmentation, and has important practical implications when integrated in landscape management plans developed to guarantee ecological connectivity.

Author(s): Dondina, O; Orioli, V; Colli, L; Luppi, M; Bani, L

Journal: Landscape Ecology

Year: 2018