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    Estimating Functional Connectivity of Wildlife Habitat and Its Relevance to Ecological Risk Assessment

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    Habitat fragmentation is a major threat to the viability of wildlife populations and the maintenance of biodiversity. Fragmentation relates to the sub-division of habitat into disjunct patches. Usually coincident with fragmentation per se is loss of habitat, a reduction in the size of the remnant patches, and increasing distance between patches. Natural and anthropogenic processes leading to habitat fragmentation occur at many spatial scales, and their impacts on wildlife depend on the scales at which species interact with the landscape. The concept of functional connectivity captures this organism-based view of the relative ease of movement or degree of exchange between physically disjunct habitat patches. Functional connectivity of a given habitat arrangement for a given wildlife species depends on details of the organism's life history and behavioral ecology, but, for broad categories of species, quantities such as home range size and dispersal distance scale allometrically with body mass. These relationships can be incorporated into spatial analyses of functional connectivity, which can be quantified by indices or displayed graphically in maps. We review indices and GIS-based approaches to estimating functional connectivity, presenting examples from the literature and our own work on mammalian distributions. Such analyses can be readily incorporated within an ecological risk framework. Estimates of functional connectivity may be useful in a screening-level assessment of the impact of habitat fragmentation relative to other stressors, and may be crucial in detailed population modeling and viability analysis.


    fragmentation, functional connectivity, dispersal, metapopulation, population viability analysis

    Author Information:

    Johnson, AR
    Assistant professor and graduate research assistant, Clemson University, Pendleton, SC

    Allen, CR
    Unit leader, Clemson University, Clemson, SC

    Simpson, KAN
    Assistant professor and graduate research assistant, Clemson University, Pendleton, SC

    Committee/Subcommittee: E47.02

    DOI: 10.1520/STP11941S