The importance of small patches of habitat for conservation

We have a new paper out in the Journal of Applied Ecology, about preventing the death by 1000 cuts of our ecosystems through an understanding of the importance of small patches. It has received encouraging support from international conservation groups and researchers. Our research shows that in addition to declines in the extent of almost every vegetated ecosystem in Australia, most are becoming increasingly fragmented. Some have more than half of their remaining extent in small patches that are vulnerable to being cleared under new laws. In Queensland, thousands of hectares of vegetation on high value agricultural land is currently cleared, and in many Australian States, patches below 5 ha can be cleared without a permit. This is extremely worrying.

Clearing of Mulga habitat in Australia. Photo by Michelle Venter

We developed a simple multi-pronged metric for assessing ecosystem vulnerability that improves on current methods by considering the size and configuration of remaining patches as well as overall loss. Our approach is the first to explore the consequences of small-scale vegetation clearing due to the failure of current policies to protect vegetation patches smaller than a particular threshold. We demonstrate approaches that allow planners and researchers to assess how dependent ecosystems are on differently-sized patches. This will hopefully enable policy-makers to make more informed decisions about where and if vegetation protection or clearing should be permitted.

Brigalow Scaly-foot, a legless lizard confined to one of the most vulnerable communities to loss of small patches. Photo by Jeremy Ringma

Source: The importance of small patches of habitat for conservation

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