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Thresholds in landscape connectivity and mortality risks in response to growing road networks
Article first published online: 5 AUG 2008
© 2008 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2008 British Ecological Society
Journal of Applied Ecology
Volume 45, Issue 5, pages 1504–1513, October 2008
How to Cite
Frair, J. L., Merrill, E. H., Beyer, H. L. and Morales, J. M. (2008), Thresholds in landscape connectivity and mortality risks in response to growing road networks. Journal of Applied Ecology, 45: 1504–1513. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2008.01526.x
- Issue published online: 29 AUG 2008
- Article first published online: 5 AUG 2008
- Received 25 February 2008; accepted 28 June 2008; Handling Editor: Nathalie Pettorelli
- habitat bias;
- movement model;
- random walk;
- road density;
- road ecology
- 1The ecological footprint of a road may extend for several kilometres with overlapping effects from neighbouring roads causing a nonlinear accumulation of road effects in the landscape. Availability of preferred habitat, spatial dependencies between roads and habitat types, and fidelity to traditionally used areas further confound our ability to predict population-level responses of animals to growing road networks.
- 2To isolate these effects, we developed an individually based movement model using elk Cervus elaphus L. as a model system. Empirically derived movement rules redistributed elk under different amounts of preferred habitat (clearcuts), road densities, and road development schemes. We tracked potential mortality risk (given time spent near roads) and emigration rates (given declining accessibility of foraging habitat).
- 3Design of the road network accounted for up to 30–55% difference in mortality risk and emigration rates, with the largest differences occurring at intermediate road densities (1–1·5 km km−2) when road effects began to saturate the landscape. Maintaining roads in association with clearcuts caused a decline in habitat accessibility equivalent to replacing 50–75% of these foraging patches with conifer forest. A nine-fold difference in potential emigration was observed after varying elk tolerance for declining habitat accessibility despite holding local movement biases constant.
- 4Elk responses to growing road networks were non-linear, exposing thresholds for road density that were reflected in the home range occupancy patterns of a large sample of elk in the region.
- 5Synthesis and applications. Our approach provides a means of scaling-up complex movement decisions to population-level redistribution, separating the confounding effects of landscape context from road effects, and exposing thresholds in connectivity and mortality risks for wildlife caused by infrastructure growth. Our model indicated that road densities ≤ 0·5 km km−2 yielded the highest probability of elk occurrence where elk were hunted (and sensitive to roads), but disassociating roads from foraging habitats or managing human access to roads may maintain effective elk habitat at substantially higher road densities.