Date of this Version
Landscape Ecol (2018) 33:1939–1951
Context The Rainwater Basin region in south-central Nebraska supports a complex network of spatiallyisolated wetlands that harbor diverse floral and faunal communities. Since European settlement, many wetlands have been lost from the network, which has increased distances among remaining wetlands. As a result, populations of wildlife species with limited dispersal capabilities may have become isolated and face greater local extinction risks.
Objectives We compared the pre-European settlement and current extent of the Rainwater Basin network to assess the effects of wetland losses on network connectivity for a range of maximum dispersal distances.
Methods We constructed network models for a range of maximum dispersal distances and calculated network metrics to assess changes in network connectivity and the relative importance of individual wetlands in regulating flow.
Results Since European settlement, the number of wetlands in the Rainwater Basin has decreased by[90%. The average distance to the nearest neighboring wetland has increased by 150% to * 1.2 km, and the dispersal distance necessary to travel throughout the whole network has increased from 3.5 to 10.0 km. Last, relative importance of individual wetlands depended on the maximum dispersal distance. Which wetlands to preserve to maintain connectivity might therefore depend on the dispersal capabilities of the species or taxa of interest.
Conclusions To preserve a broad range of biodiversity, conservation efforts should focus on preserving dense clusters of wetlands at fine spatial scales to maintain current levels of network connectivity, and restoring connections between clusters to facilitate long-range dispersal of species with limited dispersal capabilities.
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