After massive experiment, results favor wildlife corridors

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- To combat urban sprawl and protect wildlife, many communities have set aside land for wildlife corridors linking natural areas to one another.

Public support for these greenways, however, has overshadowed a long-running debate among ecologists about whether they actually achieve their presumed benefits. The debate has been hobbled by a lack of definitive data, with many studies based solely on observations and others only on small-scale experiments, scientists say.

A University of Florida-led study may help resolve the issue. Set to appear next week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study examines two barometers of healthy ecosystems plant pollination by insects and the dispersal of seeds by birds and concludes that corridors encourage the movement of plants and animals across "fragmented" landscape. The findings of the study are important, its authors say, because it is based on a much larger and more ambitious experiment than typically attempted.

"This is by far the largest experimental look at the effects of corridors that has ever been done," said Josh Tewksbury, a UF postdoctoral associate and the study's lead author.

Intuitively, wildlife corridors make sense. First envisioned as early as the 1960s, they are seen as ways to allow wildlife and plants to spread across natural landscapes that have been cut into pieces by roads, development, logging or other disturbances. The idea is that corridors not only allow animals to find new resources, they also prevent the isolation of species isolation that can lead to localized extinction if the habitat fragments are not accessible for reproduction or recolonization. Finding support for this seemingly simple theory, however, is more difficult than might appear, said Doug Levey, a UF professor of zoology and one of the study's authors.

Previous studies have shown that wild areas connected by corridors have more wildlife or greater biodiversi

Contact: Josh Tewksbury
University of Florida

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