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Landscape Connectivity as a Function of Scale and Organism Vagility in a Real Forested Landscape

Robert G D'Eon, Self-employed
Susan M Glenn, Department of Forest Sciences, University of British Columbia
Ian Parfitt, Selkirk College
Marie-Josée Fortin, Department of Zoology, University of Toronto

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Abstract

Landscape connectivity is considered a vital element of landscape structure because of its importance to population survival. The difficulty surrounding the notion of landscape connectivity is that it must be assessed at the scale of the interaction between an organism and the landscape. We present a unique method for measuring connectivity between patches as a function of organism vagility. We used this approach to assess connectivity between harvest, old-growth, and recent wildfire patches in a real forested landscape in southeast British Columbia. By varying a distance criterion, habitat patches were considered connected and formed habitat clusters if they fell within this critical distance. The amount of area and distance to edge within clusters at each critical distance formed the basis of connectivity between patches. We then assessed landscape connectivity relative to old-growth associates within our study area based on species' dispersal abilities. Connectivity was greatest between harvest patches, followed by old-growth, and then wildfire patches. In old-growth patches, we found significant trends between increased connectivity and increased total habitat amount, and between decreased connectivity and increased old-growth harvesting. Highly vagile old-growth associates, such as carnivorous birds, perceive this landscape as connected and are able to access all patches. Smaller, less vagile species, such as woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches, may be affected by a lack of landscape connectivity at the scale of their interaction with old-growth patches. Of particular concern is the northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus), which we predict is limited in this landscape due to relatively weak dispersal abilities.

Key words

British Columbia, dispersal, forest fragmentation, landscape connectivity, marten, northern flying squirrel, northern goshawk, scale, vagility
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087