ecoConnect: Regional Ecosystem-based Connectivity

Regional connectivity for forests and forested wetlands
in eastern NY and western New England

Landscape connectivity is vital to the long-term survival of plant and animal populations. At varying scales, connectivity is necessary for feeding, migration, mating, genetic diversity, and dispersal to new areas. As climate change alters habitat, species will be forced to alter their geographic distribution, in some cases dispersing great distances over generations. Where connectivity is broken by unsuitable habitat, roads and other types of development, it is likely that many plant and animal populations will disappear over time. ecoConnect, our model of regional connectivity, provides conservation practitioners with maps and data that can inform conservation actions aimed at maintaining connected landscapes for multiple species, both locally and across the Northeast.

Regional connectivity for ridgetop systems, eastern Pennsylvania
Regional connectivity for forests and forested
wetlands for 13 states in the Northeast

We started the analysis by selecting points with high ecological integrity in a 2 km grid. These points were connected to other points within 5 km based on development, road traffic, and ecological similarity relative to each starting point. These connections were made with random low cost paths, which mapped a large number of suboptimal, but reasonably good routes, yielding paths that represent local connectivity. We counted the number of times each path was used in connecting each pair of points across the entire Northeast, and used this regional analysis to weight local connectivity resulting in metrics of regional connectivity that are

Truly regional: rather than chaining local or medium-scale connectivity, this approach assessed paths hundreds of miles long, from Virginia to Maine.

Multi-scale: connectivity was assessed at multiple scales, so results are meaningful for a town, a state, or the entire Northeast.

Ecosystem-aware: rather than simply connecting natural systems, connectivity was estimated for forests or wetlands or even finer groups such as ridgetop systems or floodplain forests, and paths were based on ecological similarity to the target systems.

Independent of pre-defined conservation targets: rather than connecting existing or aspirational conservation cores, all of the landscape was connected, so conservation targets may be brought in later in the planning process or omitted entirely.

ecoConnect can be used to assess the level of connectivity among existing conservation land, and to target additional land to conserve connectivity, including land important for connectivity that might not otherwise be protected because it is not highly rated for habitat quality or ecological integrity. It can also be used to assess potential locations for road crossing structures for wildlife and identify bridges and culverts that may already provide connectivity under high-traffic roads.

Development of regional ecosystem-based connectivity was funded by USGS Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center and the intramural research program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, McIntire-Stennis and Renewable Resources Extension Act (RREA) programs.


Documentation

A description of ecoConnect: https://landeco.umass.edu/web/lcc/dsl/ecoconnect/dsl_documentation_ecoConnect.pdf

Technical report: [Not yet available]


Web viewer

You can view ecoConnect for the Northeast using our simple web viewer: https://umassdsl.shinyapps.io/ecoConnect

We have received funding from USGS Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center to develop a more complete web viewer for the Northeast that will include ecoConnect regional connectivity, Index of Ecological Integrity scores, and a site scoring tool. We expect to post an initial version of this new web viewer in Spring 2024, replacing our current stopgap version.

Download GIS data

GeoTIFFs of regional connectivity for the northeastern United States are available for four ecosystems:

  1. Forests and forested wetlands (573 MB): https://landeco.umass.edu/web/lcc/dsl/ecoconnect/ecoconnect_forests.zip
  2. Nonforested wetlands (420 MB): https://landeco.umass.edu/web/lcc/dsl/ecoconnect/ecoconnect_wetlands.zip
  3. Ridgetop systems (224 MB): https://landeco.umass.edu/web/lcc/dsl/ecoconnect/ecoconnect_ridgetops.zip
  4. Large river floodplain forests (66 MB): https://landeco.umass.edu/web/lcc/dsl/ecoconnect/ecoconnect_floodplains.zip

Served GIS data

Results are also available as a Web Map Service on our GeoServer:
https://umassdsl.webgis1.com/geoserver/wms

  1. Forests and forested wetlands ecoConnect:Forest_fowet
  2. Nonforested wetlands: ecoConnect:Nonfo_wet
  3. Ridgetop systems: ecoConnect:Ridgetop
  4. Large river floodplain forests: ecoConnect:LR_floodplain_forest