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Abstract

As habitat loss and fragmentation increase across the northeastern United States, identifying and prioritizing connecting routes between protected areas has taken on new urgency. Protecting habitat linkages, or corridors, in which species can live and move between core habitats is a useful strategy for maintaining biodiversity, reducing the negative effects of habitat fragmentation, and potentially mitigating effects of climate change. Spatial models are an informative tool to predict the best locations for conservation corridors by incorporating specific landscape features and the available information on wildlife behavior and preferences. As large landscape conservation initiatives gain traction in the conservation community, conservation planners can use spatial tools to conduct connectivity analyses as opposed to creating conservation plans through ad -hoc methods. Here we present a case study using Corridor Designer, a free software program, and modeled landscape resistance surfaces based on expert knowledge to predict a habitat linkage location that could provide functional connectivity for three focal species: black bear (Ursus americanus), bobcat (Lynx rufas), and fisher (Martes pennanti) in the Split Rock Wildway conservation planning area (SRW) in Essex County, NY The analysis area was limited to the SRW in order to provide comparison with an existing conservation effort. The methods described in this paper provide a cost-effective, science-based, and transparent way to assess habitat connectivity for conservation planning. This assessment: (I) provides a functional habitat linkage for three mammal species, (2) evaluates the uncertainty in resistance surfaces used to predict that habitat linkage, and (3) compares the predicted functional habitat linkage to an existing ad-hoc linkage effort in the same conservation planning area. In the SRW, our model suggests that the best functional habi­tat linkage for black bear, bobcat, and fisher is located south of a current ad-hoc initiative. This functional habitat linkage location differed significantly from the ad-hoc linkage in location as well as in the perceived resistance to movement for each species. Multiple model simulations tended to converge on the same functional habitat linkage. Our results suggest that the predicted functional habitat linkage should be included in conservation plans aimed at maintaining landscape connections between the Split Rock Wild Forest and the larger wild areas of the Adirondack Park.

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