Connected habitats essential to ecological
Preserving habitat corridors, thin strips of remnant habitat linking disconnected areas of natural habitat, to create habitat networks is a promising conservation strategy that can sustain biodiversity and ecosystem processes, according to a new McGill University-led study.
Biological diversity plays a critical role in the way ecosystems function by contributing to nutrient recycling, carbon storage, climate regulation, and resistance to invasive species. Globally, man-made habitat loss and fragmentation is causing biodiversity loss, which in turn is breaking the link between biodiversity and ecosystem functions.
In a study by Andrew Gonzalez, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Biodiversity, and team in the Department of Biology at McGill, and collaborators at the University of Nottingham in the UK to be published in the up-and-coming journal Ecology Letters, discovered the crucial role connected habitats play in maintaining biodiversity.
The team shrunk the difficult problem of studying ecosystems to manageable proportions by using a model ecosystem in a controlled laboratory experiment. They created small-scale fragmented landscapes, and over the course of a year monitored how the diversity of microscopic organisms, and several important ecosystem processes, changed in response to this experimental manipulation.
They discovered that habitat connected by corridors lost fewer species than isolated fragments, and, crucially, maintained ecosystem processes in a manner more similar to large, intact, habitats. Corridors work by allowing organisms to move between habitat fragments.
Corridors thus restore the vital link between biodiversity and ecosystem functions. The research by Gonzalez’s team shows that connected habitat is essential for the preservation of the complex web of species interactions and processes so important for ecosystem services and human well-being.
The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), UK; Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC); and the Canada Research Chair Program (CRC).