Connecting landscapes across the Wet Tropics
Landscape connectivity in ecology is, broadly, “the degree to which the landscape facilitates or impedes movement between resource patches” (Taylor et al., 1993).
- Be structural (where things are and the shape of the land);
- Be functional (how plants and animals move through and use the landscape);
- Occur across a range of scales, from particular sites (such as a road crossing) to the continental scale;
- Describe links between individual species, habitat, and ecosystems;
- Include biological processes such as pollination and seed dispersal, predator/prey relationships and food webs, water and nutrient flows, and types of ecosystem disturbance;
- Refer to a range of organisms and time scales – from daily movement of animals to the evolutionary flow of genetic materials over generations.
Such complexity is difficult to measure so we often fall back on measuring habitat connectivity for a particular species or collection of species.
However, our bigger and more pressing challenge in the Wet Tropics is to promote ecological connectivity across the landscape. For example there are 14 separate, unconnected sections of the internationally significant World Heritage Area. The Wet Tropics has irreplaceable and endemic species that are threatened by ecological fragmentation. To make positive change for the future, we need to build all aspects of ecosystem function at a landscape scale, across a range of habitats.
Benefits of connectivity
Research has shown that improving connectivity will benefit particular species, including a range of threatened and iconic species such as the Southern Cassowary, Mahogany Gliders and Lumholtz Tree Kangaroos, that have become symbols for the need to reverse forest fragmentation.
The Walter Hill Ranges project is an example of a long term project supported by many groups working to improve connectivity from the coastal lowlands at Mission Beach to the southern Atherton Tablelands at Ravenshoe, to facilitate movement of rainforest species, including the Southern Cassowary. Click on the story map link for details and maps about this significant project.
Climate change and connectivity
Climate change scientists have also advocated increased habitat and connectivity as part of the solution to addressing the impacts of climate change. New research through the Regional NRM Planning for Climate Change project has provided valuable insight into the areas in the landscape that will be suitable for various species under future climate conditions. This provides us with new insight and direction when planning for where to invest in building landscape connectivity. Read more.
Rainforest Aboriginal People
The Wet Tropics region is home to 20 Rainforest Aboriginal tribal groups. Conservation and connectivity in the Wet Tropics are inextricably linked with that of Aboriginal cultural and spiritual values. The ecosystems of the region have evolved over thousands of years through active Aboriginal interaction with the land, water and sea. This interaction is paramount for the maintenance of Aboriginal culture and intrinsically linked with ecological processes. The participation of Traditional Owners and their cultural knowledge and perspectives of plants, animals and ecology is essential for management of connectivity.
Much of the land outside of the protected World Heritage Area is used for farming activities. Ecological connectivity can co-exist with agriculture and provide environmental and socioeconomic benefits. Conserving existing native vegetation and planting local native species can have many advantages such as controlling erosion, improving flood mitigation, improving water quality, creating shade and windbreaks, increasing pollination and reducing pests and weeds.
Connectivity and the community
Landscapes are a combination of natural and man-made environments and the interactions of nature and people over time. Landscapes help to define identity, a sense of place and a context for people’s lives and livelihoods. To maintain and improve ecological connectivity across the landscape we must also build social and community connectivity. Group activities such as tree-planting can be an excellent way to establish healthy relationships between diverse community interests founded on building a healthier landscape.