A comparison of approaches for including connectivity in systematic conservation planning.

Published online
11 Nov 2022
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Hanson, J. O. & Vincent, J. & Schuster, R. & Fahrig, L. & Brennan, A. & Martin, A. E. & Hughes, J. S. & Pither, R. & Bennett, J. R.
Contact email(s)

Publication language


Plans for expanding protected area systems (prioritizations) often aim to facilitate connectivity. To achieve this, many approaches-based on different assumptions and datasets-have been developed. However, little is known about how such approaches influence prioritizations. We examine eight approaches that aim to promote connectivity in prioritizations. Using Washington State (USA) and its avifauna as a case study, we generated prioritizations that aimed to meet species' representation targets and promote connectivity by (a) maximizing total area; (b) further maximizing species representation; (c) minimizing boundary length; and connecting areas based on (d) minimizing human pressure, (e) minimizing naturalness-based landscape resistance, (f) minimizing focal species landscape resistance, (g) minimizing habitat heterogeneity and (h) maximizing environmental similarity. We controlled for total expenditure, species' representation, and existing land use policies to enable comparisons among prioritizations. We then used a hierarchical cluster analysis to compare prioritizations, based on which areas they selected. We also evaluated how well each approach facilitated connectivity as measured by the other approaches. We found that different approaches for promoting connectivity can lead to very different or very similar prioritizations, depending on their underlying assumptions. In particular, the boundary length approach-which is widely used in systematic conservation planning-resulted in a prioritization that was highly dissimilar to all other prioritizations. Surprisingly, approaches based on very different underlying assumptions produced similar prioritizations, such as maximizing total area and minimizing focal species landscape resistance approaches. Moreover, when comparing the prioritizations based on the level of connectivity they could facilitate, we found that none of the prioritizations facilitated a high level of connectivity for all eight approaches. Synthesis and applications. We recommend carefully considering the assumptions and limitations that underpin approaches for promoting connectivity. Our findings demonstrate that different connectivity approaches can produce marked differences in priorities and, in turn, produce trade-offs between different approaches. Indeed, despite the ubiquity of the boundary length approach, practitioners might find that other approaches can better achieve conservation objectives. Practitioners can use our methodology for comparing different connectivity approaches to help to navigate trade-offs among them.

Key words