A graph-theory framework for evaluating landscape connectivity and conservation planning.
Connectivity of habitat patches is thought to be important for movement of genes, individuals, populations, and species over multiple temporal and spatial scales. We used graph theory to characterize multiple aspects of landscape connectivity in a habitat network in the North Carolina Piedmont (U.S.A). We compared this landscape with simulated networks with known topology, resistance to disturbance, and rate of movement. We introduced graph measures such as compartmentalization and clustering, which can be used to identify locations on the landscape that may be especially resilient to human development or areas that may be most suitable for conservation. Our analyses indicated that for songbirds the Piedmont habitat network was well connected. Furthermore, the habitat network had commonalities with planar networks, which exhibit slow movement, and scale-free networks, which are resistant to random disturbances. These results suggest that connectivity in the habitat network was high enough to prevent the negative consequences of isolation but not so high as to allow rapid spread of disease. Our graph-theory framework provided insight into regional and emergent global network properties in an intuitive and visual way and allowed us to make inferences about rates and paths of species movements and vulnerability to disturbance. This approach can be applied easily to assessing habitat connectivity in any fragmented or patchy landscape.
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