Jump to: Why Corridors; Trophic ecology; Nutritional ecology
Wildlife corridors are the most popular management strategy for reducing the devastating effects of habitat loss and fragmentation. There's only one problem: we aren't sure they work.
Conceptually, corridors are a win-win. They connect otherwise isolated high quality habitats to support species movement between populations to increase genetic flow, but without requiring large tracts of land that are giving way to human land use. It's definitely a win economically, but the jury is still out if they work in practice ecologically.
However, with over 20 years of experiments, we have a pretty good idea that corridors are a step in the right direction. My advisor, Nick Haddad, created the Corridor Experiment at the Savannah River Site in SC to study the effects of corridors at a large scale while controlling for edge effects, patch shape, and distance to patch. Over the years, Nick and others from the project have shown that plants, arthropods, small mammals, and birds all increase movement between habitats when they're corridor-connected. Very promising, but not the only piece of the puzzle. That's where I come in.
We're asking a lot out of corridors. They need to reduce extinction of the most sensitive species by maintaining ecological processes between landscapes with only a fraction of the real estate. And with each increasing trophic level, that job gets harder. Addressing connectivity issues through the lens of predation allows me to study the ability of corridors to facilitate species interactions. Spiders are the perfect predator to study trophic level dynamics - they're abundant, easy to find, fit the scale of our landscapes, and are important arthropod predators that can shape communities.