University of Wisconsin–Madison
Spatial Analysis For Conservation and Sustainability

Restoring riparian forests according to existing regulations could greatly improve connectivity for forest fauna in Chile

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Habitat connectivity is essential to facilitate species movement across fragmented landscapes, but hard to achieve at broad scales. The enforcement of existing land use policies could improve habitat connectivity, while providing legal support for implementation. Our goal was to evaluate how forest connectivity is affected if forests are restored according to existing riparian buffer regulations in Chile. We simulated forest restoration within 30 and 200 m of rivers in 99 large watersheds, following two sections of the forest regulation. We mapped habitat for two model forest species that have different minimum habitat sizes (15 and 30 ha), and for each we identified forest habitats and corridors using image morphology analysis. To quantify change in connectivity, we used a network graph index, the Relative Equivalent Connected Area. We found that both 30- and 200-m riparian buffers could have a positive effect on habitat connectivity. The 200-m buffers increased connectivity the most where forest cover was 20–40% (40% mean increase in connectivity index), while the 30-m buffers increased connectivity the most where forest cover was 40–60% (30% mean increase in connectivity index). The effect of riparian restoration scenarios was similar for both model species, suggesting that effective implementation of existing forest regulation could improve connectivity for fauna with a range of minimum habitat size requirements. Our findings also suggest that there is some flexibility in the buffer sizes that, if restored, would increase habitat connectivity. This flexibility could help ease the social and economic cost of implementing habitat restoration in productive lands.