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Surface water network structure, landscape resistance to movement and flooding vital for maintaining ecological connectivity across Australia’s largest river basin
Abstract and Figures
Context: Landscape-scale research quantifying ecological connectivity is required to maintain the viability of populations in dynamic environments increasingly impacted by anthropogenic modification and environmental change. Objective: To evaluate how surface water network structure, landscape resistance to movement, and flooding affect the connectivity of amphibian habitats within the Murray–Darling Basin (MDB), a highly modified but ecologically significant region of south-eastern Australia. Methods: We evaluated potential connectivity network graphs based on circuit theory, Euclidean and least-cost path distances for two amphibian species with different dispersal abilities, and used graph theory metrics to compare regional- and patch-scale connectivity across a range of flooding scenarios. Results: Circuit theory graphs were more connected than Euclidean and least-cost equivalents in floodplain environments, and less connected in highly modified or semi-arid regions. Habitat networks were highly fragmented for both species, with flooding playing a crucial role in facilitating landscape-scale connectivity. Both formally and informally protected habitats were more likely to form important connectivity “hubs” or “stepping stones” compared to non-protected habitats, and increased in importance with flooding. Conclusions: Surface water network structure and the quality of the intervening landscape matrix combine to affect the connectivity of MDB amphibian habitats in ways which vary spatially and in response to flooding. Our findings highlight the importance of utilising organism-relevant connectivity models which incorporate landscape resistance to movement, and accounting for dynamic landscape-scale processes such as flooding when quantifying connectivity to inform the conservation of dynamic and highly modified environments.
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