Mapping the connectivity–conflict interface to inform conservation

Vasudev, D., Fletcher, R. J., Jr., Srinivas, N., Marx, A. J., Goswami, V. R. (2023) PNAS 120: 0-0 10.1073/pnas.2211482119

Abstract: Balancing the competing, and often conflicting, needs of people and wildlife in shared landscapes is a major challenge for conservation science and policy worldwide. Connectivity is critical for wildlife persistence, but dispersing animals may come into conflict with people, leading to severe costs for humans and animals and impeding connectivity. Thus, conflict mitigation and connectivity present an apparent dilemma for conservation. We present a framework to address this dilemma and disentangle the effects of barriers to animal movement and conflict-induced mortality of dispersers on connectivity. We extend random-walk theory to map the connectivity–conflict interface, or areas where frequent animal movement may lead to conflict and conflict in turn impedes connectivity. We illustrate this framework with the endangered Asian elephant Elephas maximus, a species that frequently disperses out of protected areas and comes into conflict with humans. We mapped expected movement across a human-dominated landscape over the short- and long-term, accounting for conflict mortality. Natural and conflict-induced mortality together reduced expected movement and connectivity among populations. Based on model validation, our conflict predictions that explicitly captured animal movement better explained observed conflict than a model that considered distribution alone. Our work highlights the interaction between connectivity and conflict and enables identification of location-specific conflict mitigation strategies that minimize losses to people, while ensuring critical wildlife movement between habitats. By predicting where animal movement and humans collide, we provide a basis to plan for broad-scale conservation and the mutual well-being of wildlife and people in shared landscapes.