Integrating functional connectivity and climate change in the design of protected area networks

Authors: Bauduin, Sarah
Advisor: Cumming, Steven G.McIntire, EliotSt-Laurent, Martin-Hugues
Abstract: The world is facing worrisome declines in biodiversity. Species extinction rates have increased as a direct consequence of human activities. Protected areas have been implemented around the world in an effort to counter biodiversity loss. Although protected areas are part of the solution, they should be designed systematically in a way to maximize their effectiveness. Enhancing functional connectivity between protected areas is one way to increase their effectiveness. Climate change is disrupting environmental conditions globally. It is a threat to biodiversity that until recently was not often integrated into protected area design. Climate change has been shown to impact species movements, and therefore landscape functional connectivity. Some studies have suggested that enhancing functional connectivity between protected areas can also help species cope with climate change impacts. My thesis presents a methodology to design protected area networks while accounting for climate change and functional connectivity. My study area is located in the natural region of Gaspésie in Québec (Canada). The endangered Atlantic-Gaspésie population of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) was used as the focal species to define functional connectivity. This small population is in long-term decline due to predation and habitat change, but climate change may become an additional threat. First, I built a spatially explicit individual-based model to explain and simulate caribou movement. I used sparse VHF data available at the time of the study to select and parameterize a movement model using a pattern-oriented modeling strategy. My best model reproduced most of the movement patterns defined from the observed data. This model improved the understanding of the movement drivers for the Atlantic-Gaspésie caribou. It also provided spatial estimates of caribou landscape use in the Gaspésie region. I concluded that sparse data were sufficient to fit individual-based models when coupled with a pattern-oriented modeling strategy. Second, I estimated how climate change and conservation activities may impact caribou movement potential. I used the individual-based model to simulate caribou movements in hypothetical landscapes representing the impacts of various climate change scenarios and conservation activities. Conservation activities represented the implementation of new protected areas in Gaspésie, according to the scenario developed by the government of Québec, and the restoration of secondary roads inside protected areas. Climate change impacts on vegetation, as defined in my scenarios, reduced caribou movement potential. Road restoration was able to mitigate these negative effects whereas the implementation of the new protected areas did not improve caribou movement potential. Third, I presented a methodology to design effective protected area networks and proposed new protected areas to implement in Gaspésie to conserve biodiversity in the presence of climate change. I created a large sample of protected area networks expanding the existing network to reach an areal target of 12%. I then calculated an ecological representativeness index and two measures of functional connectivity over time for each network. Functional connectivity measures represented the overall access to the protected areas and the movement potential in them for the Atlantic-Gaspésie caribou. I used movement potential estimates for the current time period and for the future under different climate change scenarios to represent functional connectivity. The protected area network I proposed maximized the trade-off between the three network features I calculated. In this thesis I examined Atlantic-Gaspésie caribou movements under different environmental conditions, including climate change impacted landscapes. These results helped define new protected areas for the Gaspésie region that will protect the caribou population over time. I believe this thesis gives new insights on the Atlantic-Gaspésie caribou movement behavior, as well as on the management actions that could be taken in Gaspésie to improve conservation of caribou and of other species. I believe this methodology could be applied to other ecosystems with similar characteristics and needs.
Document Type: Thèse de doctorat
Issue Date: 2016
Open Access Date: 24 April 2018
Grantor: Université Laval
Collection:Thèses et mémoires

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