Habitat corridors facilitate genetic resilience irrespective of species dispersal abilities or population sizes


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Abstract

Corridors are frequently proposed to connect patches of habitat that have become isolated due to human-mediated alterations to the landscape. While it is understood that corridors can facilitate dispersal between patches, it remains unknown whether corridors can mitigate the negative genetic effects for entire communities modified by habitat fragmentation. These negative genetic effects, which include reduced genetic diversity, limit the potential for populations to respond to selective agents such as disease epidemics and global climate change. We provide clear evidence from a forward-time, agent-based model (ABM) that corridors can facilitate genetic resilience in fragmented habitats across a broad range of species dispersal abilities and population sizes. Our results demonstrate that even modest increases in corridor width decreased the genetic differentiation between patches and increased the genetic diversity and effective population size within patches. Furthermore, we document a trade-off between corridor quality and corridor design whereby populations connected by high-quality habitat (i.e., low corridor mortality) are more resilient to suboptimal corridor design (e.g., long and narrow corridors). The ABM also revealed that species interactions can play a greater role than corridor design in shaping the genetic responses of populations to corridors. These results demonstrate how corridors can provide long-term conservation benefits that extend beyond targeted taxa and scale up to entire communities irrespective of species dispersal abilities or population sizes.

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