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Graduate Defense: Jamie Faselt

June 28 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm MDT

Thesis Information

Title: Understanding Social, Political, and Biophysical Barriers to Long-term Connectivity for Reintroduced Plains Bison

Program: Master of Science in Biology

Advisor: Dr. Matt Williamson, Biological Sciences

Committee Members: Dr. Jen Cruz, Biological Sciences, and Dr. Marie-Anne de Graaff, Biological Sciences

Abstract

Habitat connectivity enables key ecological and evolutionary processes that allow wildlife to persist in human-dominated environments. Connectivity conservation typically focuses on biophysical barriers to animal movement, but for many species reintroductions, establishing and maintaining connectivity often requires overcoming both ecological and socio-political barriers. In the grasslands of Montana, variation in human attitudes and institutions are a key barrier to bison reintroduction. As such, connectivity planning for bison conservation requires an understanding of not only the biophysical but also socio-political composition and heterogeneity of the landscape. We leverage a survey of wildlife governance preferences of 30,000 North American residents and a suite of freely available information on environmental and institutional attributes to develop integrated resistance surfaces that incorporate attitudes towards bison, land tenure arrangements, and economic variables along with biophysical elements typical of contemporary connectivity analyses. We utilize respondents’ preferences for Tribally-led governance structures and economic incentives to develop hypothetical policy interventions and manipulate resistance values to evaluate the effectiveness of those interventions for connectivity conservation. We compare both the cost-distances and current densities resulting from each connectivity analysis to understand the implications of the socio-political landscape, biophysical barriers, and intervention scenarios on potential bison connectivity. Our approach provides a framework for identifying movement pathways that promote connectivity, are socio-politically feasible, and highlight opportunities where policy or social interventions might improve landscape connectivity.