Understanding Habitat Connectivity to Inform Conservation Decisions

Project Summary

Affiliation(s): Southeast CSC

Principal Investigator(s):
  • Nick Haddad (Department of Biology, North Carolina State University (NCSU))

In the Southeast, where rapid human development is increasingly dividing natural areas, habitat fragmentation and loss threaten the health and even genetic viability of wildlife populations, and interrupt migration routes. Climate change is projected to exacerbate fragmentation by further disrupting landscapes. To make matters worse, it is also expected to shift the range of many species, forcing animals capable of adapting by moving to expand into new areas to find more suitable temperatures and adequate food supplies – a challenge made difficult, if not impossible, by disconnected landscapes. Maintaining connectivity between habitats is a key strategy for conserving wildlife populations into the future, and sound science is needed to inform conservation decisions.

Scientists with the SE CSC, in partnership with the South Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative, assessed current and projected connectivity for three species that inhabit bottomland hardwood forests, a habitat of high conservation concern: American black bear, Rafinesque’s big-eared bat, and timber rattlesnake. Not surprisingly, the study results suggest that under anticipated climate conditions, there will be fewer connections for species to move between suitable habitats.

Moreover, the findings reveal that the connectedness of a future landscape will be species specific. For example, what may be sufficiently connected for a black bear to easily traverse long distances might well prove to be disconnected for a rattlesnake. This suggests a limited ability for managers to use the “umbrella species” concept to make generalized management decisions. The team additionally found that connectivity projections differ based on the model and method being used. Researchers suggest that managers and others use multiple techniques and focus on multiple species to get a more holistic, accurate representation of how species will use a particular landscape in the future and how connections between and among habitats can be strengthened most effectively.

Timber Rattlesnake - Credit: Alan Cressler

Affiliation(s): Southeast CSC

Principal Investigator(s):
  • Nick Haddad (Department of Biology, North Carolina State University (NCSU))
  • Jen Constanza (NCSU)
  • Ron Sutherland (Wildlands Network)

Start Date: September 2012

End Date: March 2015

Project Status: Completed

Tags: Climate change, Landscape Connectivity, Southeast Climate Science Center, FY 2012, CSC, Southeast CSC, 2012, Landscapes, Wildlife and Plants, Education, Modeling and Tools, Climate and Ecosystem Modeling, Mammals, Other Wildlife, Other Landscapes

Fiscal Year: FY 2012 Projects

Publications & Other

  • Connectivity Modeling web page

    • A website dedicated to advancing the latest information on corridor science and tools for managers who are planning for corridors.

      • Final Memo for "Connectivity for Climate Change in the Southeastern United States"

        • Final_Report_Haddad_ConnectivityinSE.pdf (Download)
        • Habitat fragmentation and its lasting impact on Earth’s ecosystems


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            • SEAFWA.shp [x-gis/x-shapefile] (Download)
            • SEAFWA.dbf [application/octet-stream] (Download)
            • SEAFWA.shx [x-gis/x-shapefile] (Download)
            • SEAFWA.prj [text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1] (Download)
            • SEAFWA.shp.xml [application/fgdc+xml] (Download)
            • SEAFWA.sbn [x-gis/x-shapefile] (Download)
            • SEAFWA.sbx [x-gis/x-shapefile] (Download)