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Conserving forest biodiversity through habitat connectivity

The ConnectForestBiodiversity (ConnectForBio) project makes an important contribution to the conservation and enhancement of habitat connectivity through the establishment and setting aside from management of habitat patches (stepping stones) in forests.

Stepping stones serve as refugia for many species, including mammals, insects, mosses and lichens. As such, they enable the connectivity of otherwise isolated habitats and the dispersal of species with a limited range.

Financial compensations are regulated by the contractual agreements between the forest owners and the Austrian Research Centre for Forests (BFW). Investigations of various species groups are conducted on the stepping stones in order to survey biodiversity and analyse habitat connectivity.

For connectivity, two important concepts have to be considered: a) structural connectivity and b) functional connectivity. Structural connectivity refers to the spatial distribution of stepping stones (distance to each other) and their size. Functional connectivity refers to the suitable habitat characteristics of the sites (structure and site conditions). Both of these concepts are crucial to enable species dispersal, especially under current changing climatic conditions.

The consequences of climate change may cause unexpected impacts on species, as well as on entire communities. They influence genetic diversity, behaviour and ultimately the survival of species. The forest as an ecosystem, as well as its sustainable management, are thus faced with great challenges and uncertainties. Habitat connectivity provides the basis for ecological processes and enables the dispersal and recolonization of areas by threatened populations.