Sustaining forest landscape connectivity under different land cover change scenarios

L. Rubio, M. Rodríguez-Freire, M.C. Mateo-Sánchez, C. Estreguil, S. Saura


Managing forest landscapes to sustain functional connectivity is considered one of the key strategies to counteract the negative effects of climate and human-induced changes in forest species pools. With this objective, we evaluated whether a robust network of forest connecting elements can be identified so that it remains efficient when facing different types of potential land cover changes that may affect forest habitat networks and ecological fluxes. For this purpose we considered changes both in the forested areas and in the non-forest intervening landscape matrix. We combined some of the most recent developments in graph theory with models of land cover permeability and least-cost analysis through the forest landscape. We focused on a case of study covering the habitat of a forestdwelling bird (nuthatch, Sitta europaea) in the region of Galicia (NW Spain). Seven land-use change scenarios were analysed for their effects on connecting forest elements (patches and links): one was the simplest case in which the landscape is represented as a binary forest/non-forest pattern (and where matrix heterogeneity is disregarded), four scenarios in which forest lands were converted to other cover types (to scrubland due to wildfires, to extensive and intensive agriculture, and to urban areas), and two scenarios that only involved changes in the non-forested matrix (renaturalization and intensification). Our results show that while the network of connecting elements for the species was very robust to the conversion of the forest habitat patches to different cover types, the different change scenarios in the landscape matrix could more significantly weaken its long-term validity and effectiveness. This is particularly the case when most of the key connectivity providers for the nuthatch are located outside the protected areas or public forests in Galicia, where biodiversity-friendly measures might be more easily implemented. We discuss how the methodology can be applied to a wide range of forest landscape management situations, where both the conservation of the forest critical areas and an adequate management of the landscape matrix between them are of concern to achieve the sustainability of the ecological flows and ecosystem services at the wider forest landscape scale.

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DOI: 10.5424/fs/2012212-02568