A wildlife corridor, also known as a habitat or green corridor, is an area of habitat connecting wildlife populations that would otherwise be separated by human activities or structures such as roads, other infrastructure development, or logging and farming.
What is a wildlife corridor?
Practically speaking, a wildlife corridor is a link of wildlife habitat, generally made up from native vegetation, which joins two or more larger areas of similar wildlife habitat.
Wildlife corridors play a very important role in maintaining connections between animal and plant populations that would otherwise be isolated and therefore at greater risk of local extinction. Providing physical connections between larger areas of habitat means that wildlife corridors enable migration, colonization and interbreeding of plants and animals.
Wildlife corridors come in many forms as they need to be adapted to local circumstances and be designed around specific habitats. As such, wildlife corridors can consist of a sequence of small patches across the landscape or continuous lineal strips of vegetation and habitat .
The main purpose of wildlife corridors is therefore to increase biodiversity by reconnecting areas of fragmented land or parts of the aquatic environment and thereby contributing to stabilizing species populations.
Why are wildlife corridors important?
Populations of plants, animals and other species benefit from wildlife corridors as they open up new areas for finding food and shelter; seasonal relocation becomes more safe and effective since the routes are not exposed to human activity and small populations can be united with others of the same kind to breed .
Wildlife corridors offer a holistic approach for protecting and managing ecosystems and optimizing connectivity between habitats. Human activity and intervention in our natural environment leaves fragmented patches of intact or relatively intact ecosystems whose ties with others are severed.
If human activities continue in the area, those islands of biodiversity become even smaller and grow further apart putting the ecosystems at risk. This ultimately leads to a break down in the various ecological processes such as species migration, recycling of nutrients, pollination of plants and other natural functions required for ecosystem health. As a result, the habitat will suffer severe biodiversity decline and local extinction of sensitive species.
In such circumstances, wildlife corridors can help halt biodiversity loss and redress some of the impacts of the degradation and isolation of ecosystem .
How are wildlife corridors designed?
There are several examples of how wildlife corridors have been introduced in different countries.
One of the most successful examples was that of the creation of wolf corridor in a golf course in Jasper National Park, Alberta in 2001. This corridor enabled wolves to pass through the course and it is considered one of the first demonstrations of how wildlife corridors are used by wildlife and can be effective in decreasing fragmentation .
Having said that, designing and setting up wildlife corridors is a lengthy and meticulous process which needs to take into account the specificities of each situation and create a corridor that will help create natural links between isolated habitats.
The success of wildlife corridors also requires detailed research in order to verify their effectiveness . The complexity of the project of creating a wildlife corridor will largely depend on the scale of the project.
For example, if it is a case of building a road but ensuring it does not impact on biodiversity or if it is a case of restoring habitat links in areas of intensive farming or logging.
Wildlife corridors are not the panacea to habitat fragmentation
While researchers may not fully agree on the benefits of wildlife corridors, they are united in their conviction that prevention is the best cure.
Instead of trying to reverse the negative impacts of human activities, it is worthwhile pursuing more sustainable tactics that take into account impacts to our environment from the outset and adapting our intentions and plans before setting them in motion. This will help reduce further ecosystem degradation as a result of habitat fragmentation.
The acceptance that human development needs to be adapted to preserve and enhance the natural processes of ecosystems is reflected in the increasing reference of the term “green infrastructure.”
The concept of green infrastructure supports that spatial planning and territorial development consciously integrate the need to protect and enhance nature and natural processes .