Landscape Ecology & Wildlife Conservation

Landscape Ecology and Wildlife Conservation

Ryan Heiniger | @FamrHuntr

One of the greatest challenges facing wildlife conservation across the globe is the loss of habitat, which is critical to wildlife sustainability. Thus, we must develop innovative methods to improve wildlife conservation by linking the spatial ecology of a species with landscape structure and patch connectivity. For example, in agricultural landscapes, habitat (for certain species) is usually one of the limiting factors to their distribution across the landscape.

Let’s take pheasants for example…historically pheasants occupied most of Nebraska but with conversions of croplands to more intensive agriculture and the simplification of the landscape (corn and soybean rotations; image below shows how the same area went from multiple farmsteads in 1938 to virtually one large farmstead in 2006), pheasant populations are now limited to certain areas of the state.

Multiple Farms in 1938
Multiple Farms in 1950
Multiple Farms in 2006

Clay Center, Nebraska - Photos courtesy of Larkin Powell

In addition to the loss of habitat for wildlife, another challenge facing wildlife species distribution is the connectivity of habitat patches (or lack thereof). For example, I’ve often heard from landowners who have enrolled lands in conservation programs why they don’t have any pheasants or quail. Remember back to the 1989 movie, Field of Dreams…one of the famous quotes from this movie is, “If you build it, they will come.” I would argue that without patch connectivity in highly fragmented landscapes that you can create the best possible habitat around but without thinking about “where” the neighboring patch is that has pheasants or quail, “how will they get to your patch?”

This is where my research lab comes into play! Our lab integrates wildlife conservation with landscape ecology to help improve wildlife movements and distribution across the landscape. By thinking beyond the patch, our landscape scale approach to wildlife and habitat management allows us to integrate other novel areas of research (e.g., Precision Conservation) to optimize resource allocation and to truly have a “landscape scale impact.” To learn more about our research, contact Dr. Andrew Little at alittle6@unl.edu.