Where to Restore Ecological Connectivity? Detecting Barriers and Quantifying Restoration Benefits

Brad H. McRae, Sonia A. Hall, Paul Beier, David M. Theobald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

237 Scopus citations


Landscape connectivity is crucial for many ecological processes, including dispersal, gene flow, demographic rescue, and movement in response to climate change. As a result, governmental and non-governmental organizations are focusing efforts to map and conserve areas that facilitate movement to maintain population connectivity and promote climate adaptation. In contrast, little focus has been placed on identifying barriers-landscape features which impede movement between ecologically important areas-where restoration could most improve connectivity. Yet knowing where barriers most strongly reduce connectivity can complement traditional analyses aimed at mapping best movement routes. We introduce a novel method to detect important barriers and provide example applications. Our method uses GIS neighborhood analyses in conjunction with effective distance analyses to detect barriers that, if removed, would significantly improve connectivity. Applicable in least-cost, circuit-theoretic, and simulation modeling frameworks, the method detects both complete (impermeable) barriers and those that impede but do not completely block movement. Barrier mapping complements corridor mapping by broadening the range of connectivity conservation alternatives available to practitioners. The method can help practitioners move beyond maintaining currently important areas to restoring and enhancing connectivity through active barrier removal. It can inform decisions on trade-offs between restoration and protection; for example, purchasing an intact corridor may be substantially more costly than restoring a barrier that blocks an alternative corridor. And it extends the concept of centrality to barriers, highlighting areas that most diminish connectivity across broad networks. Identifying which modeled barriers have the greatest impact can also help prioritize error checking of land cover data and collection of field data to improve connectivity maps. Barrier detection provides a different way to view the landscape, broadening thinking about connectivity and fragmentation while increasing conservation options.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere52604
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 27 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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