Identifying high value areas for conservation: Accounting for connections among terrestrial, freshwater, and marine habitats in a tropical island system
Functional ecosystems depend on biotic and abiotic connections among different environmental realms, including terrestrial, freshwater, and marine habitats. Accounting for such connections is increasingly recognized as critical for conservation of ecosystems, especially given growing understanding of the way in which anthropogenic landscape disturbances can degrade both freshwater and marine habitats. This need may be paramount in conservation planning for tropical island ecosystems, as habitats across realms are often in close proximity, and because endemic organisms utilize multiple habitats to complete life histories. In this study, we used Marxan analysis to develop conservation planning scenarios across the five largest islands of Hawaii, in one instance accounting for and in another excluding habitat connectivity between inland and coastal habitats. Native vegetation, perennial streams, and areas of biological significance along the coast were used as conservation targets in analysis. Cost, or the amount of effort required for conservation, was estimated using an index that integrated degree and intensity of anthropogenic landscape disturbances. Our results showed that when connectivity is accounted for among terrestrial, freshwater, and marine habitats, areas identified as having high conservation value are substantially different compared to results when connectivity across realms is not considered. We also showed that the trade-off of planning conservation across realms was minimal and that cross-realm planning had the unexpected benefit of selecting areas with less habitat degradation, suggesting less effort for conservation. Our cross-realm planning approach considers biophysical interactions and complexity within and across ecosystems, as well as anthropogenic factors that may influence habitats outside of their physical boundaries, and we recommend implementing similar approaches to achieve integrated conservation efforts.