It has been widely argued that habitat fragmentation is bad for (meta)population persistence and that a high level of fragmentation is a similarly undesirable characteristic for a reserve network. However, modelling the effects of fragmentation for many species is very difficult due to high data demands and uncertainty concerning its effect on particular species. Hence, several reserve selection methods employ qualitative heuristics such as boundary length penalties that aggregate reserve network structures. This aggregation usually comes at a cost because low quality habitats will be included for the sake of increased connectivity. Here a biologically justified method for designing aggregated reserve networks based on a technique called distribution smoothing is investigated. As with the boundary length penalty, its use incurs an apparent biological cost. However, taking a step further, potential negative effects of fragmentation on individual species are evaluated using a decision-theoretic uncertainty analysis approach. This analysis shows that the aggregated reserve network (based on smoothed distributions) is likely to be biologically more valuable than a more fragmented one (based on habitat model predictions). The method is illustrated with a reserve design case study in the Hunter Valley of south-eastern Australia. The uncertainty analysis method, based on information-gap decision theory, provides a systematic framework for making robust decisions under severe uncertainty, making it particularly well adapted to reserve design problems.
Biological Conservation – Elsevier
Published: May 1, 2006
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