Setting conservation priorities for migratory networks under uncertainty

Authors: Dhanjal-Adams, Kiran L.; Klaassen, Marcel; Nicol, Sam; Possingham, Hugh P.; Chades, Iadine; Fuller, Richard A.

SourceCONSERVATION BIOLOGY, 31 (3):646-656, JUN 2017

Brief summary of the paper: Conserving migratory species requires protecting connected habitat along the pathways they travel. Despite recent improvements in tracking animal movements, migratory connectivity remains poorly resolved at a population level for the vast majority of species, thus conservation prioritization is hampered.

To address this data limitation, we developed a novel approach to spatial prioritization based on a model of potential connectivity derived from empirical data on species abundance and distance traveled between sites during migration. We applied the approach to migratory shorebirds of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.

Conservation strategies that prioritized sites based on connectivity and abundance metrics together maintained larger populations of birds than strategies that prioritized sites based only on abundance metrics. The conservation value of a site therefore depended on both its capacity to support migratory animals and its position within the migratory pathway; the loss of crucial sites led to partial or total population collapse.

We suggest that conservation approaches that prioritize sites supporting large populations of migrants should, where possible, also include data on the spatial arrangement of sites.