Connecting wildlife habitats has often been perceived as a way to enhance biodiversity. A new article supports previous evidence with large-scale findings.
The article published in the journal Science provides new evidence on the links between wildlife corridors and higher levels of biodiversity. The research is based on an experiment carried out in South Carolina, in the United States, over a period of 18 years, which allowed scientists to study the impacts on biodiversity of linking isolated habitats compared to habitats that lacked this type intervention.
The study was based on observing the dynamics of biodiversity in a series of 2.5-acre pine savanna squares, some of which were connected with corridors. After 18 years, the connected habitats had 14% higher levels of biodiversity and 24 more plant species on average compared to the disconnected ones.
Wildlife corridors provide animals with multiple benefits. They improve access to food and water and allow animals to move around safely while avoiding roads and other human infrastructure. They also support the propagation of seeds and pollen, which improves biodiversity and strengthens the resilience of the ecosystem. The benefits they bring to humans include better pollination of crops, prevention of soil erosion, and greater opportunities to closely observe wildlife.
While previous research has shown similar results, the new study provides a qualitatively new type of evidence, being the largest of its kind to date, both spatially and temporally. The fact that the study was conducted near nuclear facilities with strict access limitations helped ensure a minimum of human interference and robust results.
The study is critical to continuing efforts to develop wildlife corridors around the world, providing better terrain for projects such as Half Earth or Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, which works to improve connections between protected areas in northern Canada and the US, as well as many other rebuilding initiatives around the world.
Nick M. Haddad, a co-author of the study from Michigan State University, suggests that wildlife corridors are "the most viable path to actual biodiversity conservation." He argues that the new study provides "the best scientific evidence that runners perform as intended."