Marie-Caroline Prima: Empirically testing the robustness of a spatial network following habitat loss and fragmentation

Marie-Carolina Prima

In this insight, Dr. Marie-Caroline Prima discusses the paper, “A landscape experiment of spatial network robustness and space-use reorganisation following habitat fragmentation”, possible new research questions, and her involvement in ecology.

What’s your paper about?

Our paper is about an experimental test on network theory. Network theory is a tool that is used to model the connectivity of a landscape for a specific species. The nodes of the network represent important resource patches for the individuals and the links are the potential movements among those patches. For example, if two patches are connected within the network, it means that individuals can potentially move from the first patch to the second, and vice-versa. A network is useful to quantify the level of connectivity within a landscape and also to identify specific nodes or set of nodes that are crucial to maintain the connectivity. For example, the most connected nodes (i.e., the ones with the highest number of links, also called hubs) are known to be very important to maintain the connectivity within a graph since their disruption can cause, for example, a disconnection of a set of nodes from the main pool of connected nodes. Network theory can thus be helpful to anticipate the impact of a disturbance on landscape connectivity; however, predictions of network theory are rarely tested in the field. Our paper is thus an empirical test, using a before-after method, of network robustness following habitat fragmentation.

What are the key messages of your article?

Our article has three key messages:

  1. Network rewiring (i.e., the reconnection of patches following a disturbance) can occur following habitat loss and fragmentation and it has to be accounted for correctly assessing changes in landscape connectivity in dynamic environments.
  2. Predictions of network theory are based on complete patch removal, whereas this is the last step of the fragmentation process. Disturbed patches remain in the former steps of the fragmentation process, thus facilitating the rewiring process. We caution not to naively apply network theory to your system without evaluating the level habitat loss and fragmentation, and potential rewiring.
  3. Functional connectivity also must be accounted for correctly predicting changes in space use following a disturbance, even though patches are rewired.  

How is your paper new or different from other work in this area?

Our paper is different from other work in this area because we empirically tested the robustness of a spatial network following habitat loss and fragmentation.

Caribou on a road next to a forest.
Caribou on the road

Does this article raise any new research questions?

We used woodland caribou as a case study, which shows high site fidelity (i.e., returning to the same place again and again) and I wonder how this behaviour can impact (positively) the rewiring process. I think an interesting question would be to look at network robustness in species showing different levels of site fidelity and assess how the rewiring process is impacted.

About the author

How did you get involved in ecology?

I really got involved in ecology when I was 22 years old. At that time, I did my first internship in a quantitative ecology lab in western Canada and I loved it! Something clicked and I knew that was what I wanted to do.

What’s your current position?

I just finished my PhD! I am actually looking for a post-doctoral position starting around May 2020 in the field of spatial ecology/quantitative ecology.

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