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Tuesday, February 7 • 8:00am - 8:20am
Symposia Session - S5: Playa Wetland Ecology. Use of Network Analysis to Prioritize Conservation of Playa Wetlands Based on Landscape Connectivity

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AUTHORS: David Haukos, U.S. Geological Survey, Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Kansas State University; Gene Albanese, Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Kansas State University

ABSTRACT: Playa wetlands are primary sites of wetland habitat for wetland-dependent species in the western Great Plains of North America. These geographically isolated wetlands function as aquatic islands for native plant and wildlife populations that are reciprocally linked through the dispersal of individuals, propagules, and ultimately genes. The frequently changing ecological state among wet and dry conditions results in difficulty to prioritize individual playas for conservation actions. Therefore, much of the conservation effort has been opportunistic and lacks strategic planning. Because playas create a landscape-level network of >50,000 individual wetlands across 6 states, a novel framework to rank playas relative to the contribution of each playa to overall spatial connectivity was developed based on global connectivity quantified as a product of each playa. Using the Texas playa wetland network (TPWN) as a case study, we quantified changes to the structural and functional connectivity of the network to identify wetlands critical to the maintenance of global connectivity based on historic records, contemporary playa function, and forecasted future scenarios. The TPWN is characterized by small, dense, loosely connected wetland sub-networks at link distances (h) > 2 km but < 5 km. Transitions to a single, large sub-network connected by increasingly direct and redundant paths at broader spatial scales occurred when the proportion of wetland present (p) was relatively low (p = 0.2). This transition happens rapidly (h = 4 km, p = ∆0.2 - 0.4) as global connectivity becomes more sensitive to changes in wetland availability and configuration. We ranked the relative importance of individual playas to connectivity by targeting wetlands for removal based on network centrality metrics weighted by current and future estimates of habitat quality and probability of inundation. The persistence of wetland-dependent species depends on a connected playa network and prioritization of playa wetlands contributing to connectivity may enhance conservation.

Tuesday February 7, 2017 8:00am - 8:20am CST
Yankee Hill I/II