Habitat connectivity increases plant diversity over decades

September 26, 2019

Restoring habitat connectivity may be a powerful tool in restoring lost plant biodiversity in fragmented ecosystems, a new study suggests. Habitat loss and fragmentation is a primary driver to the global loss of species and constitutes one of the leading threats to biodiversity across the globe. Established ecological theory predicts the importance of connectivity in both preserving and increasing species richness. As such, expanding habitat connectivity is a key conservation strategy to minimize biodiversity loss and to preserve declining populations from extinction. However, well-replicated, large-scale and long-term studies required to adequately understand habitat connectivity's role in shaping biodiversity are lacking, according to the authors. As a result, theoretical predictions about habitat connectivity restoring biodiversity are not well tested, and it remains unclear if reconnecting disparate habitat fragments could indeed improve biodiversity where it's been threatened. Ellen Damschen and colleagues evaluated the long-term effects of habitat connectivity on plant colonization and survival by manipulating connectivity between otherwise isolated habitat fragments over 18 years. According to the Damschen et al., the establishment of corridors between disparate areas reduced the likelihood of plant extinctions by nearly 2% per year, while increasing the chances of colonization from new species by almost 5% per year. Both of these positive effects continued to accrue over the entire duration of the study, the authors said. By the end of the nearly two-decade-long study, connected habitats exhibited 14% more species than their unconnected counterparts - a number likely to continue to grow, they say. The results of the study underscore the long-term value of increasing connectivity and the need for habitat corridors to be recognized and implemented into global conservation strategies.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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