The most popular landscape strategy to mitigate the negative effects of habitat loss and fragmentation is to restore connectivity through the creation of corridors. Our group is dedicated to testing the ecological consequences of corridors. Since 1993, we have worked with the US Forest Service at the Savannah River Site (SRS) to create large landscape experiments and test for effects of corridors on plant and animal dispersal, population persistence, and biodiversity. In our current research, we test the decades-long effects of corridors on plant populations and communities, focusing on species of restoration interest in longleaf pine savannah ecosystems. In particular, our research will separate long-term corridor effects created through increasing connectivity and edge habitat.
Our research team includes labs of the following individuals that make up our PI group:
Lars Brudvig (Michigan State), Ellen Damschen (Univ Wisconsin), Nick Haddad (Michigan State), Doug Levey, John Orrock (Univ Wisconsin), Julian Resasco (Univ Colorado)
Our work on corridors has shown that:
- Corridors increase dispersal of plants and animals. Detailed dispersal studies have shown that corridors increase dispersal for dozens of we’ve studied, including insects, plants (animal and wind dispersed), small mammals, and pollen.
- Corridor effects on dispersal can be predicted from knowledge of smaller-scale movement behavior of animals, especially near habitat edges.
- Corridors increase plant diversity. Critically important is that compared to the number of plant species in isolated fragments, the number of plant species in connected fragments keeps growing, and differences are still becoming greater after two decades. Long-term understanding is essential.
Among the drawbacks of corridors in a conservation context is that they create habitat edges, which can have positive as well as negative effects on plants and animals living within habitat fragments and corridors. Our lab is working to separate the effects of edges from the effects of corridors. Our corridor experiment has explicit controls on the edge effects created by corridors. Our planned work will determine the relative importance of edges and connectivity in population and community dynamics of species of restoration interest.
Our work on corridors and edges has shown that:
- Edges can cause birds to nest in places where their nests are more likely to fail, creating ecological traps.
- Edges can create unsuitable habitat for butterflies, causing butterflies to move through but not remain within corridors.
- For 61 edge effects we measured up to 2017, 29 had negative effects, compared to 22 that had positive effects and 10 that had no effect
Our experimental research on corridors is funded through a Long Term Research in Environmental Biology grant from the National Science Foundation, as well as ongoing support, including in-kind support, from the US Forest Service at the Savannah River Site.
Enjoy a selection of views of the SRS Corridor Project from over the years.