“By protecting connectivity, we are stitching together a resilient network for forest habitats.”
— Laura Marx, Conservancy forest ecologist
Despite their wishes, Nature Conservancy scientists can’t be in the field all the time, watching wildlife move among and use the habitats that we’ve worked so hard to protect.
But they can use a combination of old-fashioned and high-tech methods to essentially do just that.
Conservancy staff, consultants and volunteers are looking at how and where wildlife species move in Western Massachusetts, specifically from one large, forested area to another. These so-called forest cores represent the healthy and resilient habitats in Massachusetts’ share of the Northern Appalachians, which stretch from western New York across New England to the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec.
Using the tried-and-true methods of tracking, along with modern motion-triggered wildlife cameras and high-tech map modeling, the Conservancy is looking at ways wildlife -- from turtles to bobcats – manage to cross roads and other obstacles to move from one forest core to another. These pathways between forest cores are critical for individual animals to find feeding, breeding and winter habitat, as well as to ensure wildlife populations are connected enough to remain resilient in a future with a changing climate.
The research is all about connectivity, according to Laura Marx, a forest ecologist for the Conservancy: “By understanding how species move across these pathways, the Conservancy can prioritize the protection of key parcels, as well as advance other measures, such as changes to roadways, culverts or other infrastructure that facilitate safe movement of wildlife and people.”
One of the most important tools is both elegant and at the same time obtuse: computer mapping. Conservancy scientists use sophisticated map-based analyses based on knowledge of species habitat and movement to locate the most welcoming landscapes for wildlife to move from one forest core to the other. The mapped corridors are then verified with on-the-ground tracking data showing which species are moving, along with how, where and when.
Our scientists are also using game cameras, which take photos when an animal approaches or crosses roads. The cameras record in vivid detail the species and the exact time it was photographed.
Similar Conservancy efforts in other Northern Appalachian states are being stitched together to support regional connectivity, a crucial set of strategies in a changing climate.