Editor's Choice: Managing for stepping stone habitats to facilitate species range expansion - generalized network models lead the way

February 2014 (Issue 51:1)

Saura, S., Bodin, Ö., Fortin, M.-J. (2013), Stepping stones are crucial for species' long-distance dispersal and range expansion through habitat networks. Journal of Applied Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12179

Habitat loss and fragmentation due to intensifying human land use is the leading cause of the world’s biodiversity crisis. Facilitating the movement of individuals among the disparate habitat patches that remain has become a central focus in conservation, with recommendations for securing or creating corridors or stepping stones abounding. Not surprisingly then, understanding the process by which individuals move among habitat patches remains a hot topic in ecological research. Add climate change the mix and we not only seek greater understanding of how to maintain a species’ movement among contemporary habitat patches but how to facilitate their movement to the new patches that will arise as habitat conditions change (e.g. Chauvenet et al. 2013).

Journal of Applied Ecology has a distinguished record of publishing cutting-edge research on connectivity modeling (Kramer-Schadt et al. 2004; Epps et al. 2007; McIntire et al. 2007; Frair et al. 2008; Johst et al. 2011; Sawyer et al. 2011) and evaluating the importance of habitat connectivity under climate change (Hulme 2005; Gschweng et al. 2012). We add to that record this issue’s Editor’s Choice – an article by Santiago Saura and colleagues who cleverly generalized existing connectivity models to account for intermediate patches, or stepping stones, that support a population, facilitate reproduction and advance population spread.

 With their re-envisioning of the function of stepping stones, Saura et al. (2013) exposed thresholds in functional connectivity based on the number or size of intermediate patches, and, to emphasize the importance of intermediate habitat patches overall, achieved a greatly superior level of predictive ability when confronted with twenty years of population spread data for the black woodpecker Dryocapus martius in northeast Spain.

It is a gross understatement to say that models are important tools in ecology. Yet it is all too easy to get lost in the complexity of ecological systems. We selected Saura et al. (2013) as our Editor’s Choice because they gave us a novel way of thinking about habitat connectivity packaged in a model that remains tractable and useful for conservation.

Jacqueline L. Frair
Associate Editor


Chauvenet, A.L.M., Ewen, J.G., Armstrong, D. and Pettorelli, N. (2013) Saving the hihi under climate change: a case for assisted colonization. Journal of Applied Ecology, 50(6):1330-1340.
Epps, C.W., Wehausen, J.D., Bleich, v.C., Torres, S.G. and Brashares, J.S. (2007) Optimizing dispersal and corridor models using landscape genetics. Journal of Applied Ecology, 44(4):714-724.
Frair, J.L., Merrill, E.H., Beyer, H.L. and Morales, J.M. (2008) Thresholds in landscape connectivity and mortality risks in response to growing road networks. Journal of Applied Ecology, 45(5):1504-1513.
Gschweng, M. Kalko, E.K.V., Berthold, P., Fiedler, W. and Fahr, J. (2012) Multi-temporal distribution modelling with satellite tracking data: predicting responses of a long-distance migrant to changing environmental conditions. Journal of Applied Ecology, 49(4):803-813.
Hulme, P.E. (2005) Adapting to climate change: is there scope for ecological management in the face of a global threat? Journal of Applied Ecology, 42(5):784-794.
Johst, K., Drechsle, M., van Teeffelen, A.J.A., Hartig, F., Vos, C.C., Wissel, S., Wätzold, F. and Opdam, P. (2011) Biodiversity conservation in dynamic landscapes: trade-offs between number, connectivity and turnover of habitat patches. Journal of Applied Ecology, 48(5):1227-1235.
Kramer-Schadt, S., Revilla, E., Wigand, T. and Breitenmoser, U. (2004) Fragmented landscapes, road mortality and patch connectivity: modelling influences on the dispersal of the Eurasian lynx. Journal of Applied Ecology, 41(4):711-723.
McIntire, E.J.B., Schultz, C.B. and Crone, E.E. (2007) Designing a network for butterfly habitat restoration: where individuals, populations and landscapes interact. Journal of Applied Ecology, 44(4):725-736.
Sawyer, S.C., Epps, C.W. and Brashares, J.S. (2011) Placing linkages among fragmented habitats: do least-cost models reflect how animals use landscape? Journal of Applied Ecology, 48(3):668-678.

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