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Keywords:

  • dispersal;
  • fragmentation threshold;
  • functional connectivity;
  • habitat availability;
  • land use intensification;
  • matrix;
  • movement ecology;
  • reachability

Summary

  1. Research addressing the effects of habitat fragmentation on species, assemblages or ecosystems has been fraught with difficulties, from its conceptual foundation to statistical analyses and interpretation. Yet, it is critical to address such challenges as ecosystems are rapidly being altered across the world.
  2. Many studies have concluded that effects of habitat loss exceed those of fragmentation per se, that is, the degree to which a given amount of habitat is broken apart. There is also evidence from different biomes and taxa that habitat configuration, that is, the spatial arrangement of habitat at a given time, may influence several landscape processes such as functional connectivity, edge and matrix effects, and thus population viability.
  3. Instead of focusing attention on the relative influence of either habitat loss or fragmentation, we must identify portions of the gradient in habitat amount where configuration effects are most likely to be observed. Here, we suggest that all species are, to a certain degree, sensitive to landscape change and that, assuming a homogeneous matrix, habitat configuration will have a higher influence on species at intermediate values of habitat amount, where configuration has potentially the greatest variability.
  4. On the basis of empirical studies and simulations, we expect that species that are relatively tolerant to fragmentation of their habitat will exhibit a wider band where amount and configuration interact compared to species less tolerant to fragmentation.
  5. Synthesis and applications. Reducing habitat loss should be a top priority for conservation planners. However, researchers should also investigate the indirect impacts of habitat loss on biodiversity through fragmentation effects. This research aims to identify windows of opportunity where habitat configuration can mitigate to some extent the effects of habitat loss, particularly through the maintenance of functional connectivity.