The role of reserves and anthropogenic habitats for functional connectivity and resilience of ephemeral wetlands


  • Corresponding Editor: E. Nelson.

  • Editor's Note: Papers in this Invited Feature will be published individually, as soon as each paper is ready. Once the final paper is complete, a virtual table of contents with links to all the papers in the feature will be available at:


Ecological reserves provide important wildlife habitat in many landscapes, and the functional connectivity of reserves and other suitable habitat patches is crucial for the persistence and resilience of spatially structured populations. To maintain or increase connectivity at spatial scales larger than individual patches, conservation actions may focus on creating and maintaining reserves and/or influencing management on non-reserves. Using a graph-theoretic approach, we assessed the functional connectivity and spatial distribution of wetlands in the Rainwater Basin of Nebraska, USA, an intensively cultivated agricultural matrix, at four assumed, but ecologically realistic, anuran dispersal distances. We compared connectivity in the current landscape to the historical landscape and putative future landscapes, and evaluated the importance of individual and aggregated reserve and non-reserve wetlands for maintaining connectivity. Connectivity was greatest in the historical landscape, where wetlands were also the most densely distributed. The construction of irrigation reuse pits for water storage has maintained connectivity in the current landscape by replacing destroyed wetlands, but these pits likely provide suboptimal habitat. Also, because there are fewer total wetlands (i.e., wetlands and irrigation reuse pits) in the current landscape than the historical landscape, and because the distribution of current wetlands is less clustered than that of historical wetlands, larger and longer dispersing, sometimes nonnative species may be favored over smaller, shorter dispersing species of conservation concern. Because of their relatively low number, wetland reserves do not affect connectivity as greatly as non-reserve wetlands or irrigation reuse pits; however, they likely provide the highest quality anuran habitat. To improve future levels of resilience in this wetland habitat network, management could focus on continuing to improve the conservation status of non-reserve wetlands, restoring wetlands at spatial scales that promote movements of shorter dispersing species, and further scrutinizing irrigation reuse pit removal by considering effects on functional connectivity for anurans, an emblematic and threatened group of organisms. However, broader conservation plans will need to give consideration to other wetland-dependent species, incorporate invasive species management, and address additional challenges arising from global change in social-ecological systems like the Rainwater Basin.