Connectivity of agroecosystems: Dispersal costs can vary among crops

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Knowledge of how habitat heterogeneity affects dispersal is critical for conserving connectivity in current and changing landscapes. However, we generally lack an understanding of how dispersal costs and animal movements vary among crops characteristic of agroecosystems. We hypothesized that a physiological constraint, desiccation risk, influences movement behavior among crops and other matrix habitats (corn, soybean, forest, prairie) in Ambystoma tigrinum (tiger salamander) in Illinois, USA. In a desiccation experiment, salamanders were added to enclosures in four replicate plots of each matrix habitat, and water loss was measured every 12 h for 48 h. Changes in water loss were examined using a linear mixed model. Water loss varied among treatments, over time, and there was a significant treatment-time interaction. Water loss was greater in corn and prairie than in forest and soybean. To assess whether salamanders move through matrix habitats that minimize desiccation, we tracked movements of individuals released on edges between habitats for two treatment combinations: soybean-corn, and soybean-prairie. As predicted based on our desiccation experiment, movements were oriented towards soybean in both cases. Thus, variation in desiccation risk among matrix habitats likely influenced movement decisions by salamanders, although other factors such as predation risk could have contributed to habitat choice. We argue that conceptualizing dispersal cost as uniformly high in all crop types is too simplistic. Estimating crop-specific dispersal costs and movement patterns may be necessary for constructing effective measures of landscape connectivity in agroecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-379
Number of pages9
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2011


  • Agriculture
  • Amphibian
  • Connectivity
  • Cost-distance
  • Dispersal
  • Illinois
  • Landscape matrix
  • Least-cost
  • Salamander
  • Spatial ecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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