Monitoring ecological consequences of efforts to restore landscape-scale connectivity

David M Watson (1) , Veronica A J Doerr (2,3), Sam C Banks (4), Don A Driscoll (5), Rodney van der Ree (6,7), Erik D Doerr (2,3), and Paul Sunnucks (8)


1 Institute for Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University Albury, New South Wales, Australia   @D0CT0R_Dave

2 CSIRO Land and Water Flagship, Black Mountain Laboratories, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

3 Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

4 The Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

5 School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Centre for Intergrative Ecology, Deakin University, Australia   @DonADriscoll

6 Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology, Royal Botanic Gardens, Victoria, Australia   @rodvdr

7 School of BioSciences, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

8 School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

The growing appreciation that effective conservation needs to yield large, connected ecosystems has led to ‘connectivity conservation’ initiatives proliferating in governmental and non-governmental programs.  Improved connectivity is increasingly invoked as a strategy to mitigate negative impacts of climate change by enabling species to track preferred environments, thereby boosting functional population sizes.  One key impediment to monitoring improvements in connectivity is that existing approaches focus on metrics such as abundance of target species, species richness or habitat condition. While these may be desired outcomes of connectivity management initiatives, such approaches do not quantify connectivity changes and their influence on biodiversity responses, nor distinguish these proximate changes from simple effects of habitat improvement. To assess biodiversity responses to management initiatives, we argue that new monitoring approaches are needed to distinguish the roles of connectivity processes from those of habitat improvement.  To address this critical gap, we develop a process to guide decisions about what, where, when and how to monitor connectivity management and restoration.  We build a systems model linking organismal movement with the demographic parameters that define population processes to map out pathways from proximate on-ground actions to ultimate conservation objectives.  We embed this model within an adaptive management framework to provide a decision-support tool that links objectives to achievable monitoring goals.  We outline the benefits of marshalling on-ground activities into coordinated distributed experiments to maximize our ability to improve landscape connectivity and yield generalisable conclusions from diverse conservation initiatives while addressing some of the most fundamental questions in ecology.