The Great Eastern Ranges Initiative is based on the principles of connectivity conservation. This is a relatively new strategy that focuses on creating linkages and corridors between protected areas and other core habitat areas through revegetation and protection of existing habitat.
It is a socially inclusive approach, which engages local communities in maintaining, restoring and reconnecting habitats, in order to reverse the decline in environmental health, prevent species extinctions and increase the resilience of ecosystems. This is coupled with appropriate management across the landscape to counteract threats such as the spread of invasive species through habitat connections.
The Great Eastern Ranges corridor, with its iconic landscapes, large and diverse human population, important environmental values, extensive areas of intact habitat, and significant environmental pressures, is an ideal candidate for a continental-scale connectivity project. In 2012, the Australian Government released its National Wildlife Corridors Plan, which recognised GER as one of the country’s major connectivity conservation initiatives.
What is connectivity?
The natural environment is in constant motion, and all native species have the ability to move from one location to another at some stage in their lifecycle. In animals, such movements are obvious, however for organisms that rely on the resources available in a specific location, such as plants, fungi, lichens and some aquatic species, movements are often far less apparent and rely on the dispersal of spores, seeds, or larvae.
‘Connectivity’ refers to the characteristics of an area within a landscape that enable species to move from one location to another. The factors that determine the connectivity of an area depend on the ability of an organism to disperse and on the way in which species move.
Features that can increase landscape connectivity include wildlife corridors, the presence of small ‘stepping stones’ of intermediate habitat, and buffer zones around existing habitat areas.
Different species demonstrate very different types of movement, influenced by their life histories, anatomy and the environmental conditions that drive the need for dispersal. These include:
- Altitudinal movements – movement along gradients between higher and lower parts of the landscape in daily or seasonal cycles.
- Latitudinal movements – predictable annual movements between regions in response to seasonal differences in the availability of suitable habitat or food.
- Episodic movements – movement by species in response to the periodic availability of key food resources, or favourable breeding conditions. Such movement patterns are generally driven by significant climatic events (e.g. flooding) and are therefore less predictable than some of the other types of movement.
- Range shift or colonisation – changes in the distribution of species driven by long-term climatic cycles, or changes in regional conditions, nutrient availability or currents.
Why is connectivity important?
Habitat connectivity is vital to the conservation of species and their ecosystems. Research has shown that the traditional method of conserving isolated pockets of habitat does not on its own provide adequate protection. To maintain healthy populations of native species and facilitate natural dispersal, migration and recolonisation of former habitat, connectivity between areas is paramount. Connectivity also allows species to move easily between areas, enabling them to cope better with the effects of climate change and habitat fragmentation, including shortages of food, suitable habitats, and breeding partners.
For conservation efforts to be successful, however, they must promote functional connectivity, as well as physical connectivity. Functional connectivity is the continuation of natural ecosystem processes such as the water cycle, nutrient cycles and pollination, which are all vital to the health of a connected landscape. Simply creating physical habitat corridors and connections across the landscape does not guarantee success. If ecosystem processes are still disrupted by environmental pressures or biodiversity loss, physical connectivity may not be enough to protect biodiversity. It is therefore important to monitor the use of linkages by different species over time, and implement appropriate management practices to mitigate threats.
The role of connectivity in the GER corridor
All of GER’s activities contribute to connectivity conservation. Some of the ways in which the project links, protects and restores habitat to improve connectivity across the corridor are:
- Working with partners to expand the protected area system, which forms the backbone of conservation efforts in the landscape. This includes both public and private land conservation.
- Facilitating projects that create physical linkages and buffer zones across the landscape. This includes protecting existing linkages and the restoration and revegetation of degraded areas.
- Collaborating with GER partners and landholders to improve land management practices throughout the corridor so that different land uses become compatible with conservation whilst remaining economically sound.
- Running a range of programs through GER Partners that aim to increase community knowledge of conservation and the biodiversity of the GER corridor.