From the Science to the Application of Connectivity Conservation


Safe Passages. Highways, Wildlife, and Habitat Connectivity . Beckmann , J. P. , A. P. Clevenger , M. P. Huijser , and J. A. Hilty , editors. 2010. Island Press, Washington, D.C., U.S.A. 424 pp. $40.00 (paperback). ISBN 978-1-59726-654-3.
Connectivity Conservation Management: a Global Guide. Worboys, G. L., W. L. Francis, and M. Lockwood, editors. 2010. Earthscan, London, U.K. 480 pp. $79.95 (paperback). ISBN 978-1-84407-604-8.

A fundamental consequence of anthropogenic changes and fragmentation of natural environments throughout the world is the increasing isolation of habitats on which species depend. Isolation occurs, for example, through agricultural and urban expansion and the creation of local barriers, such as highways, railway lines, and utility easements, which impede the dispersal of plants and animals. The effects of isolation on biota have been well studied, and the conservation literature offers insights from the fields of island biogeography, metapopulation ecology, landscape ecology, and, more recently, landscape genetics.

Implementing practical solutions to maintain or restore connectivity requires such scientific knowledge be integrated with on-the-ground management. This is the focus of the books Safe Passages. Highways, Wildlife and Connectivity and Connectivity Conservation Management: A Global Guide. Authors of both volumes aim to bridge the gap between science and management by combining syntheses of current knowledge with practical case studies in a form designed to assist practitioners involved in the design, planning, and implementation of measures to enhance connectivity.

Safe Passages, an edited volume with a North American focus, addresses the detrimental effects of roads on animals and offers practical measures to mitigate these effects. As a source of mortality and a filter or barrier to movements of individuals, highways profoundly affect the demography, spatial arrangement, and status of populations throughout the world. Among their wider effects on ecosystems, highways are also a source of pollutants and they alter hydrological flows. The editors state that the purpose of this book is to “offer a practical handbook of tools and examples that may assist individuals and organizations thinking about or engaging in reducing road-wildlife impacts.” Review chapters at the beginning of the book provide a state-of-the-art summary of current practice regarding wildlife crossing structures (chapter 2), techniques to reduce wildlife–vehicle collisions (chapter 3), and passages for aquatic species (chapter 4). These are complemented by a series of informative case studies that highlight the issues involved in forming effective partnerships between transportation and conservation agencies to implement mitigation measures.

Connectivity Conservation Management, in contrast, is about large-scale connectivity at the national and continental level, over hundreds or thousands of kilometers. This edited volume arose from a sequence of workshops in 2004, 2006, and 2008 organized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Commission on Protected Areas, out of which a series of case studies were identified. The book's premise is that conservation reserves and protected areas will be more effective over the long term if they function as large-scale connected systems. The focus is on “connectivity conservation areas.” These are described as extensive tracts of natural and seminatural vegetation that encompass reserves and connect areas between the reserves that support fragments of natural vegetation or modified lands used for multiple purposes. Typically, these connectivity conservation areas are in montane environments and cross jurisdictional boundaries, such as the Vilcabamba–Amboro conservation corridor of Bolivia and Peru (chapter 8) and the Alps to Atherton initiative in Australia (chapter 5). This is a book about ambitious and pioneering visions, the steps underway to implement them, the diversity of stakeholders involved, and the management structures and processes required for implementation of such visions to proceed. Its strength lies in the experiences of the contributors, who collectively document examples of connectivity conservation areas from six of the eight biogeographic realms. A final synthesis sets out a management framework and key tasks for connectivity conservation (chapter 11).

Together, these books highlight the multiple scales at which actions are required to maintain or restore connectivity in environments heavily affected by humans. Planning for connectivity conservation areas is applied at the continental level, but implementation typically occurs at the local level, where individuals, communities, and agencies take action. Conversely, local actions to enhance connectivity in specific situations, such as installing a highway crossing, may be ineffective if they are not considered in the broader context of the surrounding environment.

A consistent theme throughout both volumes is the importance of the social and organizational context in which conservation actions are undertaken. Implementing conservation plans involves working with people and organizations to solve problems. Whether the task is to reduce vehicle–wildlife collisions or plan a connectivity conservation area across national boundaries, the case studies in these books emphasize the importance of effective engagement and cooperation among individuals and agencies. Commonly repeated lessons include the need for a shared vision, clear objectives, effective leadership, transparency, building relationships among individuals and organizations, and developing a working environment of trust and respect. These case studies flag the importance of training conservation professionals in the human dimensions of conservation work.

The examples presented in both texts highlight the complexity and variety of circumstances in which managers operate. Well-documented case studies can have a far-reaching influence on other practitioners. For example, the long-term monitoring of highway crossing structures in Banff National Park (Safe Passages, chapter 7) stands out because it documents quantitative outcomes of the mitigation actions undertaken. The experience gained in the high-profile Yellowstone to Yukon connectivity initiative in the United States and Canada (Connectivity Conservation Management, chapter 7) offers planners of more embryonic initiatives ideas for planning, coordination, and management.

These books are a welcome contribution to the literature and will be of particular value for managers as resources that cover current thinking and best practice in two disparate areas of connectivity conservation. They also document the progress made in recent years. The concluding chapter of Safe Passages notes, “As little as 15 years ago, environmental sciences and transportation engineering were completely isolated disciplines that never connected or communicated.” This makes me optimistic that at least some of the visionary plans for connectivity conservation areas, as outlined in Connectivity Conservation Management, may be realized in the foreseeable future.