Wildlife Connectivity in Human Environments

Science Center Objects

Today, urban development is rapidly fragmenting the open spaces of western North America. This can affect species that need large areas to roam, live at low densities, and tend to come into conflict with people. Dr. Erin Boydston studies the connectivity of wide-ranging mammals to inform long-term conservation planning in southern California. High levels of connectivity between wildlife communities keep ecosystems healthy and diverse in the kinds and numbers of species they can support. A thriving, biodiverse ecosystem is more resistant and resilient to threats and less likely to experience population collapse.

In southern California, highways and other urban infrastructure have fragmented open spaces, making it challenging for wide-ranging mammals like bobcats, coyotes and mule deer to navigate natural habitat. To inform long-term conservation plans for affected species, Dr. Erin Boydston is using spatial modeling, genetic analyses, and GPS-tracking technology to study wildlife landscape connectivity across California’s coast and deserts.

WERC Mule Deer Connectivity study

(Public domain.) A mule deer captured on a wildlife camera.

Natural, undisturbed lands are usually home to many diverse, interconnected habitats such as coastal environments, grasslands, forests, and deserts. Urban development can damage and isolate these habitats, creating habitat “islands” between urban and sub-urban areas, and lowering wildlife connectivity. This can cause problems ranging from reduced hunting opportunities to lower genetic diversity and an associated risk of collapse for isolated populations of wildlife.

To inform local conservation efforts, Dr. Boydston studies the genetics, movements, and interactions of both carnivores and their prey across the Chino Hills, Prado Basin, and Santa Ana Mountains of California. Her research will provide the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies with the tools and information they need to identify areas that are critical for maintaining wildlife connectivity and conservation.