Environmental Skeptics and Critics, 2013, 2(4): 118-125
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A criticism of connectivity in ecology and an alternative modelling approach: Flow connectivity

Alessandro Ferrarini
Department of Evolutionary and Functional Biology, University of Parma, Via G. Saragat 4, I-43100 Parma, Italy

Received 6 September 2013;Accepted 10 October 2013;Published online 1 December 2013

Modelling ecological connectivity across landscape is pivotal for understanding a large number of ecological processes, and for achieving environmental management aims such as preserving plant and animal populations, predicting infective disease spread and conserving biodiversity. Recently, concepts and models from electrical circuit theory have been adjusted for these purposes. In circuit theory, landscapes are represented as conductive surfaces, with resistance proportional to the easiness of species dispersal or gene flow. I observe in this paper that landscape connectivity as estimated by circuit theory relies on a strong assumption that is possibly false, unproven or very challenging to be demonstrated: species dispersals are thought as "from-to" movements, i.e. from source patches to sink ones. To this reason, I offer here a modelling approach to ecological connectivity assessment that is alternative to circuit theory and is able to fix the weak point of the "from-to" connectivity approach. The proposed approach holds also for mountain and hilly landscapes. In addition, it doesn't assume any intention for a species to go from source points to sink ones, because the expected path for the species is determined locally (pixel by pixel) by landscape features. I've called this approach "flow connectivity" since it resembles in some way the motion characteristic of fluids over a surface. Flow connectivity can be applied for conservation planning and for predicting ecological and genetic effects of spatial heterogeneity and landscape change.

Keywords circuit theory;flow connectivity;gene flow;landscape connectivity;metapopulation theory;partial differential equations;species dispersal.

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