Ongoing accumulation of plant diversity through habitat connectivity in an 18-year experiment

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Science  27 Sep 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6460, pp. 1478-1480
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax8992

Habitat connectivity enhances diversity

Fragmentation of ecosystems leads to loss of biodiversity in the remaining habitat patches, but retaining connecting corridors can reduce these losses. Using long-term data from a large, replicated experiment, Damschen et al. show quantitatively how these losses are reduced. In their pine savanna system, corridors reduced the likelihood of plant extinction in patches by about 2% per year and increased the likelihood of patch colonization by about 5% per year. These benefits continued to accrue over the course of the 18-year experiment. By the end of monitoring, connected patches had 14% more species than unconnected patches. Restoring habitat connectivity may thus be a powerful technique for conserving biodiversity, and investment in connections can be expected to magnify conservation benefit.

Science, this issue p. 1478


Deleterious effects of habitat fragmentation and benefits of connecting fragments could be significantly underestimated because changes in colonization and extinction rates that drive changes in biodiversity can take decades to accrue. In a large and well-replicated habitat fragmentation experiment, we find that annual colonization rates for 239 plant species in connected fragments are 5% higher and annual extinction rates 2% lower than in unconnected fragments. This has resulted in a steady, nonasymptotic increase in diversity, with nearly 14% more species in connected fragments after almost two decades. Our results show that the full biodiversity value of connectivity is much greater than previously estimated, cannot be effectively evaluated at short time scales, and can be maximized by connecting habitat sooner rather than later.

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