Do wildlife corridors really work?

Fifteen years ago, when I visited Costa Rica for the first time, I was riveted by a conservation effort our guide was involved in—the stringing of habitat corridors across the country to facilitate animal movements. The idea maps were being redrawn—with nature in mind instead of economic or social demands—captured my imagination.

Scientists are split on whether or not they work, and I’ve been following their volleys for about a decade. Virginia Hughes details the latest round of inquiry where longtime corridor booster Paul Beier feels the science behind corridors is still too shaky:

In a commentary published last month in PLoS Biology, conservationists Paul Beier and Andrew Gregory from Northern Arizona University pointed out that there’s actually scant evidence that wildlife corridors work in large, human-dominated landscapes. Almost all research has been done on corridors less than 150 meters long, whereas most implemented corridors are many times larger. What’s more, these studies generally measure only whether animals move from patch A to patch B, rather than explicitly testing genetic diversity or long-term occupancy.

Beier and Gregory’s solution is pretty nifty: Have people—scientists and citizen scientists alike—identify what they think are suitably substantial habitat corridors. The pair will then investigate whether and which animals use them. It seems to be a crowd-sourced evolution of their earlier project, Corridor Designer, which took a computational approach to identifying candidates. It’s like pitting local knowledge against digital brawn. I’m curious to see which one wins.

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