Abstract: To conserve biological diversity, protected‐area networks must be based not only on current species distributions but also on the landscape's long‐term capacity to support populations. We used spatially explicit population models requiring detailed habitat and demographic data to evaluate the ability of existing park systems in the Rocky Mountain region (U.S.A. and Canada) to sustain populations of mammalian carnivores. Predicted patterns of extirpation agreed with those from logistic‐regression models based only on park size and connectedness (or isolation) for the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) in developed landscapes (northern U.S. Rocky Mountains) and semideveloped landscapes (southern Canadian Rocky Mountains). The area‐isolation model performed poorly where the landscape matrix contained large amounts of suitable habitat (northern Canadian Rocky Mountains). Park area and connectedness were poor predictors of gray wolf (Canis lupus) occurrence because of this species' broader‐scale range dynamics and greater ability to inhabit the landscape matrix. A doubling of park area corresponded to a 47% and 57% increase in projected grizzly bear population persistence in developed and semideveloped landscapes, respectively. A doubling of a park's connectedness index corresponded to a 81% and 350% increase in population persistence in developed and semideveloped landscapes, respectively, suggesting that conservation planning to enhance connectivity may be most effective in the earliest stages of landscape degradation. The park area and connectivity required for population persistence increased as the landscape matrix became more hostile, implying that the relatively small combined area of parks in the boreal forest and other undeveloped regions may fall below the threshold for species persistence if parks become habitat islands. Loss of carnivores from boreal landscapes could further reduce the viability of temperate populations occupying refugia at the southern range margin. Spatially realistic population models may be more informative than simpler patch‐matrix models in predicting the effects of landscape change on population viability across a continuum of landscape degradation.
Conservation Biology – Wiley
Published: Aug 1, 2004
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