A unified model for optimizing riverscape conservation.
Spatial prioritization tools provide a means of finding efficient trade-offs between biodiversity protection and the delivery of ecosystem services. Although a large number of prioritization approaches have been proposed in the literature, most are specifically designed for terrestrial systems. When applied to river ecosystems, they often fail to adequately account for the essential role that landscape connectivity plays in maintaining both biodiversity and ecosystem services. This is particularly true of longitudinal connectivity, which in many river catchments is highly altered by the presence of dams, stream-road crossings, and other artificial structures. We propose a novel framework for coordinating river conservation and connectivity restoration. As part of this, we formulate an optimization model for deciding which subcatchments to designate for ecosystem services and which to include in a river protected area (RPA) network, while also deciding which existing river barriers to remove in order to maximize longitudinal connectivity within the RPA network. In addition to constraints on the size and makeup of the RPA network, the model also considers the suitability of sites for conservation, based on a biological integrity index, and connectivity to multiple habitat types. We demonstrate the usefulness of our approach using a case study involving four managed river catchments located in Hungary. Results show that large increases in connectivity-weighted habitat can be achieved through targeted selection of barrier removals and that the benefits of barrier removal are strongly depend on RPA network size. We find that (i) highly suboptimal solutions are produced if habitat conservation planning and connectivity restoration are done separately and (ii) RPA acquisition provides substantially greater marginal benefits than barrier removal given limited resources. Synthesis and applications. Finding a balance between conservation and ecosystem services provision should give more consideration to connectivity restoration planning, especially in multi-use riverscapes. We present the first modelling framework to directly integrate and optimize river conservation and connectivity restoration planning. This framework can help conservation managers to account better for connectivity, resulting in more effective catchment scale maintenance of biological integrity and ecosystem services delivery.