Targeting restoration sites to improve connectivity in a tiger conservation landscape in India

Dutta, Trishna; Sharma, Sandeep; DeFries, Ruth S.

Background: Maintaining and restoring connectivity between source populations is essential for the long term viability of wide-ranging species, many of which occur in landscapes that are under pressure to meet increasing infrastructure needs. Identifying barriers in corridors can help inform conservation and infrastructure development agencies so that development objectives can be achieved without compromising conservation goals. Here, we use the tiger landscape in central India as a case study to identify barriers, associate them with existing infrastructure, and quantify the potential improvement by restoring or mitigating barriers. Additionally, we propose an approach to categorize linkages based on their current status within and between Protected Areas (PAs).

Methods: We generated a hybrid landuse-landcover map of our study area by merging datasets. We used least-cost methods and circuit theory to map corridors and generate linkage metrics. We mapped barriers and used the improvement score (IS) metric to quantify potential improvement by restoring or mitigating them. Based on criteria that represent the status of corridors between-PAs and populations within-PAs, we ranked linkages into one of four categories: Cat1—linkages that currently have high quality and potential for tiger connectivity and should be maintained, Cat2W—linkages where focus on habitat and tiger populations may improve connectivity, Cat2B—linkages where focus on reducing barriers between PAs may improve connectivity, and Cat3—linkages where effort is needed to both reduce barriers between PAs and improve tiger populations and habitat within PAs. We associated barriers with infrastructure and present maps to show where restoration or mitigation measures can be targeted to have the highest potential impact.

Results: We mapped 567 barriers within 30 linkages in this landscape, of which 265 barriers intersect with infrastructure (694 km of roads, 150 km of railway, 48 reservoirs, 10 mines) and 302 barriers are due to land-use or gaps in forest cover. Eighty-six barriers have both roads and railways. We identified 7 Cat1, 4 Cat2w, 9 Cat2b, and 10 Cat3 linkages. Eighty surface mines and thermal power plants are within 10 km of the least-cost paths, and more coal mines are closer to connectivity areas where linkages are narrow and rank poorly on both axes.

Discussion: We present spatial and quantitative results that can help conservation practitioners target mitigation and restoration efforts. India is on the path to rapid economic growth, with infrastructure development planned in biodiversity-rich areas. The mitigation hierarchy of avoiding, minimizing, and offsetting impacts due to proposed development projects can be applied to corridors in this landscape. Cross-sectoral cooperation at early stages of project life-cycles to site, design, and implement solutions can maintain connectivity while meeting infrastructure needs in this rapidly changing landscape.

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Academic Units
Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology
Published Here
January 26, 2022