Toward best practices for developing regional connectivity maps

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Beier, Paul, Spencer, Wayne, Baldwin, Robert F., and McRae, Brad H.
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To conserve ecological connectivity (the ability to support animal movement, gene flow, range shifts, and other ecological and evolutionary processes that require large areas), conservation professionals need coarse-grained maps to serve as decision-support tools or vision statements and fine-grained maps to prescribe site-specific interventions. To date, research has focused primarily on fine-grained maps (linkage designs) covering small areas. In contrast, we devised 7 steps to coarsely map dozens to hundreds of linkages over a large area, such as a nation, province, or ecoregion. We provide recommendations on how to perform each step on the basis of our experiences with 6 projects: California Missing Linkages (2001), Arizona Wildlife Linkage Assessment (2006), California Essential Habitat Connectivity (2010), Two Countries, One Forest (northeastern United States and southeastern Canada) (2010), Washington State Connected Landscapes (2010), and the Bhutan Biological Corridor Complex (2010). The 2 most difficult steps are mapping natural landscape blocks (areas whose conservation value derives from the species and ecological processes within them) and determining which pairs of blocks can feasibly be connected in a way that promotes conservation. Decision rules for mapping natural landscape blocks and determining which pairs of blocks to connect must reflect not only technical criteria, but also the values and priorities of stakeholders. We recommend blocks be mapped on the basis of a combination of naturalness, protection status, linear barriers, and habitat quality for selected species. We describe manual and automated procedures to identify currently functioning or restorable linkages. Once pairs of blocks have been identified, linkage polygons can be mapped by least-cost modeling, other approaches from graph theory, or individual-based movement models. The approaches we outline make assumptions explicit, have outputs that can be improved as underlying data are improved, and help implementers focus strictly on ecological connectivity.


Beier, P., W. Spencer, R. F. Baldwin, and B. H. McRae. 2011. Toward best practices for developing regional connectivity maps. Conservation Biology 25:879–892.