Model-based estimators of density and connectivity to inform conservation of spatially structured populations

By: , and 



Conservation and management of spatially structured populations is challenging because solutions must consider where individuals are located, but also differential individual space use as a result of landscape heterogeneity. A recent extension of spatial capture–recapture (SCR) models, the ecological distance model, uses spatial encounter histories of individuals (e.g., a record of where individuals are detected across space, often sequenced over multiple sampling occasions), to estimate the relationship between space use and characteristics of a landscape, allowing simultaneous estimation of both local densities of individuals across space and connectivity at the scale of individual movement. We developed two model-based estimators derived from the SCR ecological distance model to quantify connectivity over a continuous surface: (1) potential connectivity—a metric of the connectivity of areas based on resistance to individual movement; and (2) density-weighted connectivity (DWC)—potential connectivity weighted by estimated density. Estimates of potential connectivity and DWC can provide spatial representations of areas that are most important for the conservation of threatened species, or management of abundant populations (i.e., areas with high density and landscape connectivity), and thus generate predictions that have great potential to inform conservation and management actions. We used a simulation study with a stationary trap design across a range of landscape resistance scenarios to evaluate how well our model estimates resistance, potential connectivity, and DWC. Correlation between true and estimated potential connectivity was high, and there was positive correlation and high spatial accuracy between estimated DWC and true DWC. We applied our approach to data collected from a population of black bears in New York, and found that forested areas represented low levels of resistance for black bears. We demonstrate that formal inference about measures of landscape connectivity can be achieved from standard methods of studying animal populations which yield individual encounter history data such as camera trapping. Resulting biological parameters including resistance, potential connectivity, and DWC estimate the spatial distribution and connectivity of the population within a statistical framework, and we outline applications to many possible conservation and management problems.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Model-based estimators of density and connectivity to inform conservation of spatially structured populations
Series title Ecosphere
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.1623
Volume 8
Issue 1
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Leetown
Description e01623; 16 p.
First page 1
Last page 16