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Finding habitat patches and directional connectivity


  • Robert L. Schooley,

  • John A. Wiens

R. L. Schooley and J. A. Wiens, Dept of Biology and Graduate Degree Program in Ecology, Colorado State Univ., Fort Collins, CO 80523 USA.

Present address of RLS: Dept of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Univ. of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-0430 USA (
Present address of JAW: The Nature Conservancy, 4245 N. Fairfax Dr., Suite 100, Arlington, VA 22203 USA.


For animal species inhabiting patchy environments, the search behavior of individuals and the distance from which they can detect suitable habitat (perceptual range) are key determinants of the functional connectivity of landscapes. We examined the movement behavior and perceptual range of adult cactus bugs (Chelinidea vittiger), which are habitat specialists that feed and reproduce on Opuntia cactus. Movement pathways of walking individuals released into unsuitable matrix habitat (30–3000 m from Opuntia) were highly directional. These results supported predictions of optimal search behavior from published simulation models. A release experiment within natural patch networks indicated that the perceptual range of C. vittiger depended on size of the target patch, matrix structure, and direction of the target patch relative to prevailing winds. A strong effect of wind direction on orientation behavior (and presumed perceptual range) was evident in a release experiment using ‘artificial’ patches of potted Opuntia. In these two experiments, individuals released 50–100 cm from Opuntia patches were more likely to orientate toward patches located upwind than to those located crosswind or downwind. A reexamination of the pathways of individuals walking in the matrix also revealed a strong bias for movement upwind. Such upwind movement by individuals, both within and outside of patch networks, suggests that C. vittiger uses olfaction to navigate and it complicates our ability to interpret search behavior and to estimate perceptual range. Current techniques for assessing perceptual range have limitations for olfactory-based species. Furthermore, we need to broaden our view of perceptual range and of patch and landscape connectivity. Perceptual range may be anisotropic and connectivity may be directional. An organism-based approach to spatial ecology requires that we consider the dominant senses used by species when navigating around patchy landscapes.