UCSC-SOE-23-10: EcoScape: A Model for Species-Specific Functional Habitat Connectivity

Natalia Ocampo-PeƱuela, Luca de Alfaro, Jasmine Tai, Natalie Valett, Coen Adler, Artie Nazarov
10/01/2023 02:56 PM
Computer Science and Engineering
Habitat connectivity is essential to maintain viable and healthy populations due to increased genetic flow, enhanced functional habitat, and repopulation potential. Conserving, enhancing, and restoring habitat connectivity has been identified as a priority to achieve global targets of halting extinctions and safeguarding 30% of our planet. Computational constraints of existing connectivity models have restricted these analyses to coarse scales and to a few charismatic species and/or landscapes.

We introduce EcoScape, an efficient algorithm for computing the pixel-level functional connectivity of species habitats. Informed by metapopulation theory, Ecoscape computes the connectivity of each habitat pixel as the probability that the pixel can be repopulated via propagation from other habitat locations, taking into account the species' ecological preferences and dispersal abilities. We provide a methodology based on open science data for applying EcoScape to any bird species. We show that for two forest/woodland bird species in California, EcoScape habitat connectivity values are highly correlated with relative abundances reported in eBird. EcoScape leverages Graphic Processing Units (GPUs), and is hundreds of times faster than existing connectivity models. This opens the way to mapping habitat connectivity at large scale and fine resolutions for multiple species, offering guidance for current and future conservation efforts.