Habitat quality is better than quantity for species survival
A new study suggests that improving the quality of existing wildlife habitat is more important than creating new habitat, when attempting to counteract the negative effects of climate change on species survival. This suggests that resources would be better directed towards habitat rehabilitation and reforestation than building new habitat features.
Two main drivers of biodiversity loss are climate change, which causes shifts in temperature and precipitation patterns, and the destruction of natural habitat for agriculture and urban development. However, most studies look at these drivers independently of each other when, in fact, they often happen in combination and can be strongly linked.
In the new study, which received funding through the EU FEMMES project1, scientists used a conceptual model to simulate the effects of a gradual improvement or deterioration in habitat quality over time on a hypothetical regional population. They represented this by changing the total number of individuals that the habitat could support, known as the ‘patch capacity’.
The scientists also considered the effect of decreasing or increasing the total area of high-quality habitat, representing habitat loss or gain. In each scenario, the scientists imposed the same reduction in growth rate for the population to represent a negative response to climate change. The scenarios were compared by calculating the mean time taken for the population to reach extinction.