From nature reserve to mosaic management: improving matrix survival, not permeability, benefits regional populations under habitat loss and fragmentation.
Although matrix improvement in fragmented landscapes is a promising conservation measure, matrix permeability (willingness of an organism to enter the matrix) and movement survival in the matrix are usually aggregated. Consequently, it is unknown which matrix property needs to be improved. It also remains unclear whether matrix upgrading from dispersal passage to providing reproduction opportunities has large conservation benefits and whether there are interactive effects between habitat and matrix management. We examined matrix effects on regional populations across a gradient of habitat loss and fragmentation using simulation experiments that integrated demographic processes and movement modelling based on circuit theory. We separately modified the levels of matrix permeability and movement survival to evaluate their individual effects. We also altered the amount and configuration of not only habitat but also improved matrix to assess their effects on population vital rates (size, survival and density). In binary landscapes comprising habitat and unimproved matrix, matrix movement survival had larger effects on population vital rates than matrix permeability. Increasing movement survival increased vital rates, yet, increasing matrix permeability decreased vital rates. Increased permeability required corresponding increased movement survival to offset potential negative population outcomes. When subsets of the matrix functioning as dispersal passage only (where no reproduction opportunities existed) were improved, increasing matrix permeability but holding movement survival constant reduced all vital rates, especially with increasing habitat fragmentation. In contrast, when movement survival increased, vital rates increased given strong habitat fragmentation. The benefits of upgrading dispersal passage to provide reproduction opportunities for population survival were greatest when habitat amount was moderate. We also found synergetic effects between amounts of habitat and improved matrix, and the benefits of matrix improvement were promoted when improvement was achieved in a spatially aggregated manner. Synthesis and applications. Matrix improvement and connectivity modelling aimed at increasing movement survival will likely bring larger conservation benefits than those for improving permeability alone. Buffering and connecting habitat remnants with improved matrix could provide benefits as long as movement survival is increased. Simultaneous implementation of habitat management and matrix improvement would yield synergistic conservation benefits.