New wildlife migration corridors can cut costs by over 75%

Scientists from U.S. have demonstrated recently a new technique for designing wildlife migration corridors, which is able to cut conservation costs by over 75%. Continue reading…

Researchers, under the leadership of Dr Bistra Dilkina (Georgia Institute of Technology), found that current approaches, which connect core conservation areas by designing corridors for single species based on purely ecological criteria leads to extremely expensive linkages.

Scientists from U.S. (Oregon State, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the U.S. Forest Service Research and Development, Cornell University and the U.S. Geological Survey) have collaborated in a five-year effort to develop an algorithms for optimizing corridors for multispecies use given a specific budget.

Thanks to new algorithm they found that by combining wolverine and grizzly corridors in Montana the conservation costs can be reduced from $31 million US dollars to $8 million.

Dr Dilkina said:

“This approach could revolutionize the process of corridor design. 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.”

The research team developed a method for combining two types of landscape data in a computer model. First type of landscape data was tax records that show the market values of land. Second, an ecological information about the ease with which animals can move across the landscape. Then researchers used the  model to the design of corridors to serve grizzlies and wolverines separately and together (see maps below).

A) Theoretical corridor in western Montana for grizzly bear movement (purple line), B) Theoretical corridor network in western Montana for wolverines movement (red line). Credit: Dilkina et al. (2016)
C) Theoretical corridors in western Montana, which give a 30 percent preference for wolverines and 70 percent for grizzlies, D) theoretical corridors in western Montana, which give a 70 percent preference for wolverines and 30 percent for grizzlies. Credit: Dilkina et al. (2016)

The implementation of the new method required a large amount of data about land values and barriers to animal movement. In order to get such data, the researchers chose to work with the State of Montana because it maintains an exceptional database of land parcels for tax purposes.

Dr Claire Montgomery, a forest economist at Oregon State and one of the researchers on the project, said:

“We demonstrate that a lot of potential gain can be made at moderate increases in cost as you try to connect habitat areas. Looking at trade-offs between target species is something that no one has done, as far as I know, in terms of corridor design”. 

Also, I think it is worth to read the opinion of Michael Schwartz, director of the U.S. Forest Service National Genomic Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation and co-author of the study, who said:

“Many efforts have tried to prioritize which lands to swap or purchase for connecting rare species given biological and economic realities. This new research leads the way in optimizing the use of scarce resources to achieve essential connectivity. It provides a transparent solution for optimizing connectivity while taking into account economics.”

In my opinion, both forest economists and ecologists should read this article, as it shows in very good way, how the cooperation between these two groups should look like in practice. Also, you should read the recent interview with Prof. Sun Joseph Chang, why in many cases forest economists have advantage over ecologists, especially in areas where nature protection is very important.

The article of Dr Dilkina, in my opinion, shows why forest economists should always take part in such research. Interested why? Read the interview with Prof. Chang here: Wrong people, bad results – an interview with professor Sun Joseph Chang

Source: Dilkina B, Houtman R, Gomes CP, Montgomery CA, McKelvey KS, Kendall K, et al. Trade-offs and efficiencies in optimal budget-constrained multispecies corridor networks. Conservation Biology, Volume 00, No. 0, 1–11 C 2016 Society for Conservation Biology. 

Main photo credit: By Zefram – Own work (own photography), CC BY 2.5

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