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Environmental impact assessment of development projects improved by merging species distribution and habitat connectivity modelling

Tarabon, Simon, Bergès, Laurent, Dutoit, Thierry, Isselin-Nondedeu, Francis
Journal of environmental management 2019 v.241 pp. 439-449
Meles meles, badgers, biodiversity, biogeography, decision making, development projects, ecological function, environmental assessment, fauna, habitat connectivity, landscape management, landscapes, models, planning, squirrels, France
Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is performed to limit potential impacts of development projects on species and ecosystem functions. However, the methods related to EIA actually pay little attention to the landscape-scale effects of development projects on biodiversity. In this study we proposed a methodological framework to more properly address the landscape-scale impacts of a new stadium project in Lyon (France) on two representative mammal species exemplary for the endemic fauna, the red squirrel and the Eurasian badger. Our approach combined species distribution model using Maxent and landscape functional connectivity model using Graphab at two spatial scales to assess habitat connectivity before and after development project implementation. The development project had a negative impact on landscape connectivity: overall habitat connectivity (PC index) decreased by −6.8% and −1.8% and the number of graph components increased by +60.0% and +17.6% for the red squirrel and the European badger respectively, because some links that formerly connected habitat patches were cut by the development project. Changes affecting landscape structure and composition emphasized the need to implement appropriate avoidance and reduction measures. Our methodology provides a useful tool both for EIA studies at each step of the way to support decision-making in landscape conservation planning. The method could be also developed in the design phase to compare the effectiveness of different avoidance or mitigation measures and resize them if necessary to maximize habitat connectivity.