Scientists: Wildlife corridors benefit plant biodiversity, native plants

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Wildlife corridors appear to support not only wildlife but also plants -- especially the oft-threatened native variety.

A six-year study at the world's largest experimental landscape devoted to the corridors -- links between otherwise isolated natural areas -- has found that more plant species, and specifically more native plant species, persist in areas connected by the corridors than in isolated areas. The results suggest that corridors are an important tool not only for preserving wildlife but also for supporting and encouraging plant biodiversity.

"From the perspective of whether corridors are an important conservation tool, the big question is whether they preserve a large diversity of species," said Doug Levey, a UF professor of zoology. "The answer, for plants anyway, appears to be yes."

Levey co-authored a paper on the study set to appear Friday in the journal Science.

In recent decades, many states and communities have set aside land for wildlife corridors. They are even planned on a regional scale, with one proposed corridor, for example, stretching 1,800 miles from Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon Territory.

The rationale behind the corridors is that linking natural areas allows plants and animals to spread across them, helping them to thrive, reducing localized extinctions and increasing biodiversity. But until recently, scientific evidence for that rationale was surprisingly slim, with most corridor studies conducted on very small scales.

Levey and his colleagues' massive outdoor experiment at the Savannah River Site National Environmental Research Park on the South Carolina-Georgia state line is steadily filling in the holes in scientists' knowledge.

The site consists of eight sets of five roughly two-acre clearings in the forest. In each set, a corridor connects the central clearing to one peripheral clearing, with the others remaining isolated. Plants and animal

Contact: Doug Levey
University of Florida

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