A crucial gap exists between the static nature of the United States' existing protected areas and the dynamic impacts of 21st century stressors, such as habitat loss and fragmentation and climate change. Connectivity is a valuable element for bridging that gap and building the ecological resilience of existing protected areas. However, creating terrestrial connectivity by designing individual migration corridors across fragmented landscapes is arguably untenable at a national scale. We explore the potential for use of riverine corridors in a Riparian Connectivity Network (RCN) as a potential contributor to a more resilient network of protected areas. There is ample scientific support for the conservation value of riparian areas, including their habitat, their potential to connect environments, and their ecosystem services. Our spatial analysis suggests that they could connect protected areas and have a higher rate of conservation management than terrestrial lands. Our results illustrate that the spatial backbone for an RCN is already in place, and existing policies favor riparian area protection. Furthermore, existing legal and regulatory goals may be better served if governance requirements and incentives are aligned with conservation efforts focused on riparian connectivity, as part of a larger landscape connectivity strategy. While much research on the effectiveness of riparian corridors remains to be done, the RCN concept provides a way to improve connectivity among currently protected areas. With focused attention, increased institutional collaboration, and improved incentives, these pieces could coalesce into a network of areas for biological conservation.
Biological Conservation – Elsevier
Published: Nov 1, 2015
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