Protecting life’s tangled ecological webs- keeping habitats connected

Allowing species to move in response to environmental change is predicted to not only reduce extinctions but allows food webs to maintain structure into the future

May 9, 2017 McGill University ScienceDaily

A key finding from their analysis: keeping habitats connected, so that species can move in response to environmental change, is crucial to ecosystem resilience.

…Previous theories of biodiversity explain how the number or diversity of species may change, but few have asked how the ‘wiring’ of the ecological webs will change in the future. “A unified understanding of biodiversity conservation requires knowing how the structure of ecological networks will be reshaped by global change both in space and time, and this is what is different about our work“…

….By creating a computer model of ecological networks and simulating environmental shifts, the researchers discovered that allowing species to move in response to environmental change not only prevented extinctions, but it allowed the complex networks, such as food webs, to maintain their structure into the future. “Our results suggest the degree to which future ecosystems will resemble those we see today will depend on whether species are able to easily move across human dominated landscapes,” says Thompson, now a postdoctoral fellow at UBC who worked on the study as a PhD student in Gonzalez’s lab at McGill.

Patrick L. Thompson, Andrew Gonzalez. Dispersal governs the reorganization of ecological networks under environmental change. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2017; 1: 0162 DOI: 10.1038/s41559-017-0162