Ecological Modelling, 367:13–23, 2018. Pdf doi abstract bibtex
Due to increasing habitat fragmentation and concern about its ecological effects, there has been an upsurge in the use of landscape connectivity estimates in conservation planning. Measuring connectivity is challenging, resulting in a limited understanding of the efficacy of connectivity estimation techniques and the conditions under which they perform best. We evaluated the performance of four commonly used connectivity metrics – Euclidean distance; least-cost paths (LCP) length and cost; and circuit theory's resistance distance – over a variety of simulated landscapes. We developed an agent-based model simulating the dispersal of individuals with different behavioural traits across landscapes varying in their spatial structure. The outcomes of multiple dispersal attempts were used to obtain ‘true' connectivity. These ‘true' connectivity measures were then compared to estimates generated using the connectivity metrics, employing the simulated landscapes as cost-surfaces. The four metrics differed in the strength of their correlation with true connectivity; resistance distance showed the strongest correlation, closely followed by LCP cost, with Euclidean distance having the weakest. Landscape structure and species behavioural attributes only weakly predicted the performance of resistance distance, LCP cost and length estimates, with none predicting Euclidean distance's efficacy. Our results indicate that resistance distance and LCP cost produce the most accurate connectivity estimates, although their absolute performance under different conditions is difficult to predict. We emphasise the importance of testing connectivity estimates against patterns derived from independent data, such as those acquired from tracking studies. Our findings should help to inform a more refined implementation of connectivity metrics in conservation management.