Connectivity is a measure of how landscape features facilitate movement and thus is an important factor in species persistence in a fragmented landscape. The scarcity of empirical studies that directly quantify species movement and determine subsequent effects on population density have, however, limited the utility of connectivity measures in conservation planning. We undertook a 4-year study to calculate connectivity based on observed movement rates and movement probabilities for five age-sex classes of painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) inhabiting a pond complex in an agricultural landscape in northern Virginia (U.S.A.). We determined which variables influenced connectivity and the relationship between connectivity and subpopulation density. Interpatch distance and quality of habitat patches influenced connectivity but characteristics of the intervening matrix did not. Adult female turtles were more influenced by the habitat quality of recipient ponds than other age-sex classes. The importance of connectivity on spatial population dynamics was most apparent during a drought. Population density and connectivity were low for one pond in a wet year but dramatically increased as other ponds dried. Connectivity is an important component of species persistence in a heterogeneous landscape and is strongly dependent on the movement behavior of the species. Connectivity may reflect active selection or avoidance of particular habitat patches. The influence of habitat quality on connectivity has often been ignored, but our findings highlight its importance. Conservation planners seeking to incorporate connectivity measures into reserve design should not ignore behavior in favor of purely structural estimates of connectivity.
Additional publication details
Connectivity in an agricultural landscape as reflected by interpond movements of a freshwater turtle