Connecting wildlife habitats has been perceived as a way to enhance biodiversity. A new study proves that point.
Connecting wildlife habitats has often been perceived as a way to enhance biodiversity. A new article backs up previous evidence with large-scale findings.
The paper published in the journal Science provides new evidence about 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, during an 18-year period, which allowed scientists to study the impacts on biodiversity of linking isolated habitats as compared to habitats that lacked this kind of intervention.
The study was based on observing biodiversity dynamics across a series of 2.5-acre squares of pine savanna, some of which were connected with corridors. After 18 years, connected habitats featured 14% higher biodiversity levels and 24 more plant species on average as compared to the disconnected ones.
Wildlife corridors provide animals with multiple benefits. They improve access to food and water and they allow animals to safely move about while avoiding roads and other human infrastructure. They also support the spread of seeds and pollen, which enhances biodiversity and strengthens ecosystem resilience. The benefits they bring to humans include improved crop pollination, prevention of soil erosion and increased opportunities to observe wildlife up close.
While past 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 fundamental to continuing efforts for developing wildlife corridors across the globe, providing better ground for projects like Half Earth or the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, which works to improve connections between protected areas in Northern Canada and the U.S., as well as many other rewilding initiatives across the globe.
Nick M. Haddad, a co-author of the study from Michigan State University, suggests that wildlife corridors are “the most viable path toward real conservation for biodiversity.” He argues that the new study provides “the best scientific evidence that corridors work as they are intended.”