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Analyses of least cost paths for determining effects of habitat types on landscape permeability: wolves in PolandDetermining ecological corridors is crucial for conservation efforts in fragmented habitats. Commonly employed least cost path (LCP) analysis relies on the underlying cost matrix. By using Ecological Niche Factor Analysis, we minimized the problems connected with subjective cost assessment or the use of presence/absence data. We used data on the wolf presence/absence in Poland to identify LCPs connecting patches of suitable wolf habitat, factors that influence patch occupancy, and compare LCPs between different genetic subpopulations. We found that a lower proportion of cities and roads surrounds the most densely populated patches. Least cost paths between areas where little dispersal takes place (i.e., leading to unpopulated patches or between different genetic subpopulations) ran through a higher proportion of roads and human settlements. They also crossed larger maximal distances over deforested areas. We propose that, apart from supplying the basis for direct conservation efforts, LCPs can be used to determine what factors might facilitate or hinder dispersal by comparing different subsets of LCPs. The methods employed can be widely applicable to gain more in-depth information on potential dispersal barriers for large carnivores.
Habitat suitability, corridors and dispersal barriers for large carnivores in PolandCarnivores are often particularly sensitive to landscape fragmentation. Ecological corridors may help to connect local populations, ensuring gene flow and retaining viable meta-populations. We aimed to establish habitat suitability models for two large carnivores in Poland, the grey wolf Canis lupus Linnaeus, 1758 and the Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx Linnaeus, 1758, based on ecological niche factor analysis (ENFA). Secondly, we calculated least cost paths (LCPs) based on cost values obtained from ENFA. Thirdly, we determined structures that might act as barriers, thus diminishing the value of the corridor unless appropriate conservation measures are taken. We compared some of the results with actual dispersal data of four lynx in eastern Poland. Results indicate that both species are highly marginalised. Less habitat that is currently available in Poland is suitable for lynx than for wolves. We determined a total of 76 LCPs. Comparison of these theoretical corridors with actual dispersal routes suggests that the traits of calculated LCPs are mostly within the range of those of real routes. We highlight a variety of features that might act as barriers, such as major roads (including planned highways), urbanized areas, and large un-forested areas. We give suggestions where concerted conservation efforts (eg wildlife passages) might be particularly well-directed.