Corridors and some ecological and evolutionary consequences of connectivity

Orrock, John
Major Professor
Brent J. Danielson
Committee Member
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Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology

By connecting disjunct patches, corridors may offset the effects of fragmentation by promoting gene flow and population persistence. However, the ultimate effect of corridors on a focal species may hinge upon two considerations: how corridors may affect ecological interactions that impinge upon that species, and how corridors might affect the fixation of novel alleles that ultimately determine fitness and persistence. Using an experimental landscape, I show that corridor-mediated changes in patch shape change seed predation in connected and unconnected patches, and shift the behavior, abundance, and distribution of seed predators. Rodent seed predators removed more seeds in connected patches, arthropod seed predators removed more seeds in rectangular patches, and avian seed predation did not differ due to patch type. Rodent foraging was greater in the interior of connected patches because changes in patch shape influenced risk perceived by rodents while foraging. Ant communities were also affected by changes in patch shape caused by corridors, rather than corridor effects per se. The distribution and abundance of ants differed among edge-rich areas (corridors and wings), edges, and the patch interior. In rectangular patches, fire ants (Solenopsis spp.) had negative impacts on other ant species. By changing the activity of rodents, and the composition of ant communities, corridors may have important impacts on seeds. Bird-dispersed seeds may benefit from increased dispersal among connected patches, but connected patches also have greater predation risk. Using a simulation model, I demonstrate that gene flow between a stable population and a population that experiences local extinction or a reduction in size (e.g. due to natural or anthropogenic disturbance) can dramatically affect fixation of alleles in the stable population. Alone or in concert, frequent disturbance, high rates of movement, and low habitat quality make it more likely that connectivity-mediated fixation will promote fixation of harmful alleles and reduce fixation of beneficial alleles.