Beyond the ecological success of corridors

Sadie J Ryan's picture

Sadie Ryan is an assistant professor of environmental and forest biology at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. This blog post describes the paper, "Beyond Ecological Success of Corridors: Integrating Land Use History and Demographic Change to Provide a Whole Landscape Perspective," she and Joel Hartter have in the December 2012 issue of Ecological Restoration.

Recent positive ecological measures taken in a wildlife corridor connecting two national parks in Uganda present something of a conundrum for conservationists seeking to establish future connectivity in the region. Despite its complicated history, the corridor is experiencing positive restoration of forest cover, increased faunal biodiversity and increased integrity of habitat and may therefore offer useful lessons for conservation biology and ecological restoration.

As this brief historic overview suggests, this corridor is not likely to be a good model for establishing future connectivity in the Albertine Rift -- a biodiversity hotspot with some of the highest endemism of endangered species on the entire continent of Africa AND some of the densest and  fastest growing human populations. At the same time, recent ecological measures of this corridor’s ‘success’ such as restoration to forest cover, recovery of faunal biodiversity and increased integrity of habitat are positive, and therefore the corridor represents something of a conservation conundrum.

In this study we examined the complicated juxtaposition of a history of "fortress conservation" and multiple political regimes in a corridor connecting Kibale National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park since 1926. Since that time, it was designated as a game hunting area, a no-hunting area, an extractive use permitted area, an area banned for resource extraction, gazetted as part of a sub-county and therefore settled by agricultural populations, and subsequently de-gazetted and forcibly evacuated.

While the sustainability of these park landscapes depends on the human population outside their boundaries, parks are often established to the resentment of their neighbors. People can’t settle in the park, collect wood, or graze their livestock despite the losses to their crops and livestock by park wildlife.  The sustainability of this park landscape is not guaranteed -- population pressure is increasing, but there is no compensation for the threats and high opportunity costs park neighbors face.

We present this complex story as a lesson in conservation biology and ecological restoration, to increase awareness of the larger issues at stake when planning for biodiversity conservation, and to call for larger, system-based approaches to measuring conservation success.