FWP co-authors award-winning paper on methods for mapping wildlife corridors

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologist was a co-author of a report that won the Outstanding Paper Award in Landscape Ecology from the U.S. Regional Association of the International Association for Landscape Ecology.

The paper, titled “Connecting models to movements: Testing connectivity model predictions against empirical migration and dispersal data,” was based on the research of Montana State University doctoral graduate Meredith McClure, who was the lead author of the paper.

Co-authors included Robert Inman, carnivore and furbearer coordinator for FWP, and Andrew Hansen, McClure’s adviser and professor of ecology in MSU’s College of Letters and Science.

“We are all honored that the research was recognized as significant,” Inman said.

The paper compares two methods for mapping wildlife corridors using migratory elk patterns and wolverine dispersal patterns as case studies.

“The central goal of this paper was to examine how well two predictive models — circuit theory and leastcost path — are identifying the corridors used by animals,” McClure told the MSU News Service. “We learned which type of movement each model is better at predicting, and that can help us choose the right tool for the job and map wildlife corridors more accurately.”

According to the MSU News Service, the research showed that the circuit-theory models were more effective at predicting wolverine dispersal as wolverines mature and seek their own habitat away from their parents’ territory. By contrast, McClure found that least-cost path models proved to be slightly more accurate at anticipating the annual migratory paths of elk.

“Landscape level connectivity is a major conservation challenge for the 21st century,” Inman said. “Secretary Zinke’s recent focus on migration routes is part of that, as is movement between patches of public lands for low-density species like wolverine. These are big picture, long-term, expensive conservation actions, and research like this will help make the best use of precious conservation dollars by zeroing in on the most important wildlife travel routes.”