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Individual Highlight

Combating wildlife habitat loss to human development

The panel at upper left shows the extent of the project, specified by a green outline. * Forest ServiceSnapshot : Scientists are investigating ways to lessen the impact of humans on wildlife and their travel corridors.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Cushman, Samuel A. 
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2011
Highlight ID : 387


The increase in human population has fueled urban development and led to habitat loss and fragmentation due to conversion of natural land cover to human uses. In addition, climate change is expected to drive large-scale shifts in ecological conditions and geographic shifts in vegetation types. Rocky Mountain Research Station scientists believe that: 1) the interaction of these two major ecological stressors will result in complex patterns of habitat loss and fragmentation for many native wildlife species; and 2) managers will need rigorous information on how these dominant stressors will impact a range of native wildlife species across broad landscapes.

New research is helping predict current and potential future patterns of fragmentation; prioritize keystone corridors for protection and enhancement; and identify which species in which places may require habitat restoration or assisted migration to maintain viability. This information will help natural resource managers, planners, and scientists maintain biodiversity. Researchers completed phase I of the project in 2010, which focused on developing modeling tools to predict habitat area, fragmentation, and corridor connectivity for the current pattern of habitat area and land use activities. Phase II began in fall of 2011, and evaluates current habitat area, fragmentation, and corridor connectivity for three terrestrial animals - the swift fox, lesser prairie chicken, and prairie rattlesnake, as well as for a suite of generic species based on biome-level habitat association, dispersal ability, and sensitivity to habitat fragmentation. One of the key objectives of this project is to evaluate the degree to which conservation strategies can be designed to meet the needs of multiple species simultaneously. For more information on the project methods, results, and final report, visit

* Continuation of caption: Population core areas are shown as white patches. Gray patches are predicted fracture zones, where the expected rate of movement is at least 90% less than the maximum predicted rate of movement for the species in the study area. These fracture zones are areas of critically attenuated movement that constitute partial barriers. The yellow boxes show the locations of the key fracture zones identified as being particularly important to regional connectivity. The red boxes show the location of key potential movement corridors between isolated populations. The other inset panels at right and below show the key fracture zones identified as most important to maintaining regional connectivity of the swift fox. The map ranges from red (high predicted movement rate) to dark blue (low predicted movement rate). Black areas are predicted to have zero occupancy. There are three critical fracture zones separating swift fox core populations. The northernmost fracture zone is relatively modest in effect, with the cluster of core populations largely interconnected by high predicted rates of movement. In contrast, the southern two identified key fracture zones pose a much more serious impediment to potential dispersal and gene flow. Fracture zone analysis predicts these areas experience greatly attenuated movement rates, which probably results in nearly complete isolation of the core areas separated on either side of these fracture zones.

Research Topics

Priority Areas

  • Wildlife and Fish
  • Climate Change