When it comes to wildlife conservation efforts, urban environments could be far more helpful than we think, according to new research.
When it comes to wildlife conservation efforts, urban environments could be far more helpful than we think, according to new research. A study published today in Ecology shows that animals move faster through ‘low quality’ habitats – evidence that could change the way conservationists think about managing landscapes to help species move in response to climate change. In light of the recent UN report indicating that 1 million species are threatened with extinction, the study provides a framework for definitive action to help preserve many species at risk. The work was carried out by researchers at Tufts University, University of Liverpool, Washington State University and the University of Ottawa.
For landscapes to facilitate range expansion, there is a balance to be struck between promoting movement with low-quality habitat (places where a species can survive but does not have all the resources it needs to complete its life cycle) and promoting population growth with high-quality habitat. They conclude that low-quality habitats that meet a minimum standard could actually provide a benefit as conduits for movement.
The underlying behavior that explains this surprising result is that when animals find themselves in an inhospitable area they tend to make longer and straighter movements. As long as they do not die in this area, their arrival at another breeding area will tend to be quicker. The researchers used data from 78 species in 70 studies to show that in 73 percent of cases, animals moved faster through ‘lower-quality’ habitats. To illustrate what this principle means on the ground, the team used mathematical models to calculate rates of range expansion across a variety of landscapes for an exemplar species -- the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly. They showed that range expansion is fastest through landscapes composed of around 15 percent high-quality habitat and 85 percent unsuitable habitat.
Read more at Tufts University
Image: Butterflies and other species need just 15% high quality habitat in urban spaces to make it to more suitable ranges. CREDIT: Tufts University