Model development for the assessment of terrestrial and aquatic habitat quality in conservation planning

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There is a growing pressure of human activities on natural habitats, which leads to biodiversity losses. To mitigate the impact of human activities, environmental policies are developed and implemented, but their effects are commonly not well understood because of the lack of tools to predict the effects of conservation policies on habitat quality and/or diversity. We present a straightforward model for the simultaneous assessment of terrestrial and aquatic habitat quality in river basins as a function of land use and anthropogenic threats to habitat that could be applied under different management scenarios to help understand the trade-offs of conservation actions. We modify the InVEST model for the assessment of terrestrial habitat quality and extend it to freshwater habitats. We assess the reliability of the model in a severely impaired basin by comparing modeled results to observed terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity data. Estimated habitat quality is significantly correlated with observed terrestrial vascular plant richness (R2=0.76) and diversity of aquatic macroinvertebrates (R2=0.34), as well as with ecosystem functions such as in-stream phosphorus retention (R2=0.45). After that, we analyze different scenarios to assess the suitability of the model to inform changes in habitat quality under different conservation strategies. We believe that the developed model can be useful to assess potential levels of biodiversity, and to support conservation planning given its capacity to forecast the effects of management actions in river basins ​
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