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Climate change and agricultural intensification are modifying the configuration of natural lands within agricultural landscapes, further impacting species’ ability to move freely between remaining natural areas. These working landscapes have inherently high opportunity costs, making the establishment of additional permanent reserves for species movement unlikely.


Here we explore the potential for opportunistic and dynamic conservation reserves, in the form of temporary fallowed croplands, to increase connectivity in competing land use regions.


We evaluate the potential for fallowed lands to facilitate habitat connectivity for at-risk species in the San Joaquin Valley (SJV), an intensive agricultural landscape in California. We perform landscape connectivity analyses to examine how historic drought-induced fallowing from 2011 to 2017 in the SJV region impacted connectivity within Kern County for the endangered, endemic San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica).


We found that an increase in temporary fallowing from 2011 to 2015/2017 in Kern County likely increased habitat connectivity for the kit fox. This finding was represented by reductions in average Cost-Weighted Distances (CWD), Effective Resistances, and CWD-to-Least Cost Path Ratios between core habitat areas, indicating that cumulative costs incurred by kit foxes travelling between primary habitats decreased.


Our findings highlight that strategic and cooperative, yet temporary, conservation actions have the potential to reduce the conflict between biodiversity preservation and agricultural production in working landscapes while increasing landscape connectivity. Fallowing-based, agri-environmental schemes could help working areas meet statewide groundwater management policy targets while improving species’ mobility in the face of climate change.


Published in Research Square. Available via doi: 10.21203/

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.