This text is part of the special Environment section
We now know that preserving the environment does not stop at simply reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Thanks, in particular, to the holding of the UN Conference on Biodiversity (COP15) in Montreal in December 2022, the importance of protecting biodiversity is now very present in the news. For researchers like Andrew Gonzalez, professor of biology at McGill University, it was high time.
Passionate about biodiversity, the researcher devotes his time to finding solutions to slow down its decline. Among other things, he is concerned with ways to put the pieces back together in what are called “fragmented habitats”, where ecosystems have been separated by the development of the road network, agriculture or logging, among other things. Already, in 2015, Andrew Gonzalez demonstrated, in a study published in the journal Science Advancesthat “habitat fragmentation reduces biodiversity by 13% to 75%, and its effects on ecosystems multiply over time”.
Since then, the one who is also co-director of the Center for the Science of Biodiversity in Quebec has not been idle. In a recent study published in the journal PNASit unveils a tool to predict how species move between these fragmented habitats, crucial data to guide conservation efforts.
Despite the obstacles, animals, insects and even plants still manage to walk between these fragmented islands of nature. To help them, the researcher recommends the development of “ecological corridors” which re-establish links between separate ecosystems and help genetic mixing within the same species. These corridors also allow the northward migration of species affected by global warming.
“When we plan a road network, we think of the whole: the highways, the boulevards, the streets, explains the researcher. What I’m suggesting is to do the same thing, but to encourage the movement of endangered species. His study, carried out in collaboration with colleagues from the Swiss Federal Institute of Water Science and Technology, offers a mathematical model that can predict how different species move in order to choose the ideal location for these corridors. . “The model allows us to explore scenarios that cannot be experienced in nature,” he explains. We can create corridors, habitats, and quantify the ease with which the animal disperses. »
To test the reliability of his model, Andrew Gonzalez designed a test based on a common arthropod in our soils, the springtail. The researcher created three types of artificial landscapes using plastic vials filled with synthetic earth. For each type of landscape, he connected some of these vials together with pipes according to the instructions of his model, then placed springtails in a single vial per landscape. The goal was to measure how quickly the invertebrate would colonize the other vials. “The results obtained by the experiment were explained by the computer model, which gave us confidence in it”, summarizes the professor. In short, life behaved as mathematics predicted.
The next step will be to compare the model to field data. “Many agencies and NGOs collect data on animal movements, for example using cameras, traps or collars,” says the researcher. We would like to use it to see if our model is able to predict the movement patterns of species in nature. A success at this stage would once again confirm the reliability of the model developed in the laboratory.
However, this can already be implemented. It could, for example, be used to create ecological corridors that both promote the development of certain species and slow down others. “People often ask me what to do with invasive alien species,” says Andrew Gonzalez. You can design corridors that help native species instead. »
Its model has the potential to quickly have concrete effects on the Quebec territory. The researcher takes the Montérégie region as an example: “A coalition is fighting to create an ecological corridor between Mont Saint-Hilaire and Mont Saint-Bruno. Thanks to this model, we can concretely quantify where to intervene. We give tools to those involved in preservation. The future, according to the work of Andrew Gonzalez, will be connected.
This special content was produced by the Special Publications team of the Duty, relating to marketing. The drafting of Duty did not take part.