Habitat Corridors Have Positive Spillover Effects

Habitat corridors, strips of natural land in between human settlements, enable plants and animals to spread and migrate and conduct their crucial ecological roles, such as fertilization.  Scientific America notes that “as conservationists discovered more than 40 years ago, if you connect these fragments with skinny strips of natural land, called ‘corridors,’ plants and animals can more naturally spread.” According to a recent research study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, habitat corridors create positive spillover effects, extending biodiversity far beyond the actual corridor.

FreshKills Park Blog summed up the study’s key findings: “The establishment of habitat corridors between existing natural areas–and the resulting migration of wildlife between those areas–can increase biodiversity not only in connected sites, but also in habitat adjacent to those sites.  In the study, conducted in South Carolina in conjunction with the USDA, the biodiversity spillover effect was found to extend beyond the boundaries of the connected natural areas by as much as 30 percent, resulting in a 10-18 percent increase in plant life–particularly native plants–in the larger area.  The findings suggest that investments in habitat connections can pay off on a scale even beyond their designed ambition.” 

According to Scientific America, the lead researcher, Lars Brudvig, a post-doctoral student at Washington University in St. Louis, Nick Haddad, associate professor of biology at North Carolina State University, and other researchers, were first inspired by marine fisheries management. “Banning fishing in over-exploited areas allows populations to recover, increasing their density to the point that they spill over into surrounding, fishable waters.” In other words, protected areas support higher catches overall. 

In the same way, land-based habitat corridors could provide crucial space for animals and plants to grow in the midst of an ever-expanding built environment. “As human populations grow, so do the spatial and social roadblocks to establishing new conservation areas. That leaves creating pathways between currently safeguarded spaces especially valuable.” Brudvig, in comments to Scientific America said that while only about 10 percent of land around the world is protected in the U.S., “this gives hope for the remaining 90 percent that is not afforded formal protection.”

Read the article and research study

FreshKills Park Blog noted that FreshKills Park’s master plan includes a man-made habitat corridor. Other major parks in development, including Ken Smith’s 1,300-acre Orange County Great Park also feature man-made habitat corridors. Both of these parks demonstrate that in cases where pristine landscape is unavailable to serve as a habitat corridor, man-made habitat corridors can be constructed or manufactured on land that has been highly degraded.

Image credit: Orange County Great Park Comprehensive Master Plan “A Vision for the Great Park of the 21st Century”, Irvine, California. Ken Smith Workshop West, Irvine, California, Team Lead, and Mia Lehrer + Associates, Los Angeles, California

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