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Conserv Biol. 2018 Oct 11. doi: 10.1111/cobi.13230. [Epub ahead of print]

Circuit-theory applications to connectivity science and conservation.

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Conservation Science Partners, Inc., 11050 Pioneer Trail, Suite 202, Truckee, CA, 96161, USA.
Julia Computing, 20 Garland Rd, Newton, MA, 02459, USA.
School of Forestry, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, 86011-5018, USA.
The Nature Conservancy-North America Region, 1101 West River Parkway, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN, 55415, USA.
USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, 38 Mather Drive, West Glacier, Montana, 59936.
School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Science Applications, Fairbanks, Alaska, 99701.
School of Environmental & Forest Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.
Department of Human Genetics, Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago.
The Nature Conservancy, 201 Mission St Fl 4 Floor, The San Francisco, CA, 94105, USA.
US Environmental Protection Agency, 200 SW 35th Street, Corvallis, OR, 97330, USA.


Conservation practitioners have long recognized ecological connectivity as a global priority for preserving biodiversity and ecosystem function. In the early years of conservation biology, ecologists extended principles of island biogeography to assess connectivity using measures of source patch proximity and other metrics derivable from binary maps of habitat. From 2006-2008, the late Brad McRae introduced circuit theory to many ecologists and conservation biologists as an alternative approach to model gene flow and the dispersal or movement routes of organisms. He posited concepts and metrics from electrical circuit theory as a robust way to quantify movement across multiple possible paths in a landscape, not just a single least-cost path or corridor. Here we focus on applications of circuit theory to the science and practice of connectivity conservation, including topics in landscape and population genetics, the movement and dispersal paths of organisms, anthropogenic barriers to connectivity, fire behavior, water flow, and ecosystem services. We begin with a brief introduction to the foundations of circuit theory, exploring its theoretical, conceptual, and practical linkages to conservation. We then review 459 recent studies citing circuit theory or the open-source software Circuitscape, with a summary of diverse applications across disciplines, taxa, and continents. Finally, we consider the lasting impact that circuit theory is likely to have on conservation science and practitioners, through improved insights into landscape dynamics, animal movement, and habitat use studies, and through the development of new software tools for data analysis and visualization. The influence of circuit theory on conservation has come from not only the theoretical basis and elegance of the approach, but also the powerful collaborations and active user community that have emerged. Circuit theory provides a springboard for ecological understanding and will remain an important tool for future researchers and conservation practitioners around the globe. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.


barriers; corridors; dispersal; ecological flow; electrical current; landscape genetics


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