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Keywords:

  • conefor sensinode;
  • connectivity;
  • dispersal behavior;
  • graph theory;
  • Picoides borealis;
  • urban growth modeling

Abstract

Conversion of lands to agriculture and development within remaining natural habitats have fragmented ecosystems and reduced wildlife populations. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has adopted an incentive-based conservation strategy known as the Safe Harbor Program (SHP) to reduce the vulnerability of federally protected species located on private properties. In addition to protecting populations, the SHP also strives to enhance species viability by devising strategies to (re)connect populations among habitat patches. We empirically evaluated the effectiveness of the initial Safe Harbor agreement, developed for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (Picoides borealis, hereafter RCW) in the North Carolina Sandhills, in enhancing connectivity for that species. According to our results, breeding territories located on private properties enrolled in the SHP promoted dispersal of RCWs and enhanced overall population connectivity relative to otherwise similar territories located on non-SHP properties. Moreover, the SHP created extensive stepping-stone corridors throughout the region. Our analysis also showed that RCW connectivity will be negatively impacted directly and indirectly by encroaching urban growth. By combining an urban growth model with estimated connectivity, managers and conservation planners can identify which properties critical for connectivity are most threatened by urban encroachment. These results can help conservation planners develop strategic actions on private land based on the species specific movement ability, current landscapes and projected urban growth.