Friday, 7 October 2016

Optimization technique identifies cost-effective biodiversity corridors

Date: September 27, 2016
Source: Georgia Institute of Technology

A new optimization technique could help conservation biologists choose the most cost-effective ways of connecting isolated populations of rare, threatened and endangered species living in protected areas. As the human population grows and expands its footprint, maintaining the connectivity of animal habitats is a challenge. Habitat corridors are critical for keep wildlife species connected across the landscape.

The new computer-based method for corridor conservation accounts for the cost of land acquisition and other factors such as the ability of animals to move through certain types of terrain. The technique is believed to be the first to provide optimized corridor planning for more than one species at a time, using advanced computer technology to consider the costs and trade-offs for multiple options intended to enhance biodiversity.

The method has been used to identify cost-effective connections for both wolverines and grizzly bears simultaneously. Researchers say it could have broad applicability for providing connections between protected areas at multiple scales, from evaluating local easement options to developing national strategies.

The research was done by scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology, the U.S. Forest Service Research and Development, Cornell University, Oregon State University and the U.S. Geological Survey. It was supported by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service. Details of the work are scheduled to be published later this week in the journal Conservation Biology.

"This approach could revolutionize the process of corridor design," said lead author Bistra Dilkina, assistant professor in Georgia Tech's School of Computational Science and Engineering. "By incorporating economic costs and multiple species needs directly into the planning process, it allows for a systematic exploration of cost-effective conservation plans and informs policy-makers about trade-offs both between species as well as between costs and connectivity benefits."

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