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Optimizing dispersal corridors for the Cape Proteaceae using network flow.

AT&T Labs-Research, 180 Park Avenue, Florham Park, New Jersey 07932, USA.
Ecological Applications (Impact Factor: 4.13). 08/2008; 18(5):1200-11. DOI: 10.1890/07-0507.1
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT We introduce a new way of measuring and optimizing connectivity in conservation landscapes through time, accounting for both the biological needs of multiple species and the social and financial constraint of minimizing land area requiring additional protection. Our method is based on the concept of network flow; we demonstrate its use by optimizing protected areas in the Western Cape of South Africa to facilitate autogenic species shifts in geographic range under climate change for a family of endemic plants, the Cape Proteaceae. In 2005, P. Williams and colleagues introduced a novel framework for this protected area design task. To ensure population viability, they assumed each species should have a range size of at least 100 km2 of predicted suitable conditions contained in protected areas at all times between 2000 and 2050. The goal was to design multiple dispersal corridors for each species, connecting suitable conditions between time periods, subject to each species' limited dispersal ability, and minimizing the total area requiring additional protection. We show that both minimum range size and limited dispersal abilities can be naturally modeled using the concept of network flow. This allows us to apply well-established tools from operations research and computer science for solving network flow problems. Using the same data and this novel modeling approach, we reduce the area requiring additional protection by a third compared to previous methods, from 4593 km2 to 3062 km , while still achieving the same conservation planning goals. We prove that this is the best solution mathematically possible: the given planning goals cannot be achieved with a smaller area, given our modeling assumptions and data. Our method allows for flexibility and refinement of the underlying climate-change, species-habitat-suitability, and dispersal models. In particular, we propose an alternate formalization of a minimum range size moving through time and use network flow to achieve the revised goals, again with the smallest possible newly protected area (2850 km2). We show how to relate total dispersal distance to probability of successful dispersal, and compute a trade-off curve between this quantity and the total amount of extra land that must be protected.

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