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Detecting Critical Scales in Fragmented Landscapes

Timothy Keitt, State University of New York at Stony Brook
Dean L Urban, Duke University
Bruce T Milne, University of New Mexico

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Abstract

We develop methods for quantifying habitat connectivity at multiple scales and assigning conservation priority to habitat patches based on their contribution to connectivity. By representing the habitat mosaic as a mathematical "graph," we show that percolation theory can be used to quantify connectivity at multiple scales from empirical landscape data. Our results indicate that connectivity of landscapes is highly scale dependent, exhibiting a marked transition at a characteristic distance and varying significantly for organisms with different dispersal behavior. More importantly, we show that the sensitivity and importance of landscape pattern is also scale dependent, peaking at scales associated with the percolation transition. In addition, the sensitivity analysis allows us to identify critical "stepping stone" patches that, when removed from the landscape, cause large changes in connectivity.

Key words

connectivity, conservation in fragmented landscapes, dispersal, fragmentation, habitat connectivity vs. dispersal distance, landscape, landscape graphs, metapopulation, percolation, quantifying habitat connectivity at multiple scales, "stepping stone" patch, Strix occidentalis lucida.
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087