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Ecological networks as conceptual frameworks or operational tools in conservation

Year of publication2007
Author(s)Luigi Boitani
Co-authorsFalcucci, Alessandra; Maiorano, Luigi; Rondini, Carlo
PublisherBlackwell Publishing
Number of pages9
JournalConservation biology
Magazine No.21/6
Publication typeJournal article
The establishment of ecological networks (ENs) has been proposed as an ideal way to counteract the increasing fragmentation of natural ecosystems and as a necessary complement to the establishment of protected areas for biodiversity conservation. This conservation tool, which comprises core areas, corridors, and buffer areas, has attracted the attention of several national and European institutions. It is thought that ENs can connect habitat patches and thus enable species to move across unsuitable areas. In Europe, however, ENs are proposed as an oversimplification of complex ecological concepts, and we maintain that they are of limited use for biodiversity conservation for several reasons. The ENs are species specific and operate on species-dependent scales. In addition, the information needed for their implementation is only available for a handful of species. To overcome these limitations, ENs have been proposed on a landscape scale (and for selected “focal” species), but there is no indication that the structural composition of core areas, corridors, and buffer areas could ensure the functional connectivity and improve the viability of more than a few species. The theory behind ENs fails to provide sufficient practical information on how to build them (e.g., width, shape, structure, content). In fact, no EN so far has been validated in practice (ensuring connectivity and increasing overall biodiversity conservation), and there are no signs that validation will be possible in the near future. In view of these limitations, it is difficult to justify spending economic and political resources on building systems that are at best working hypotheses that cannot be evaluated on a practical level.