Building habitat corridors

Habitat fragmentation is one of the biggest impacts to biodiversity.

by Rob McCrea, Land Protection Director
and John Lawrence, Executive Director

This article originally appeared in the winter/spring 2020 issue of The Twig, our member newsletter. To see more articles and past issues, click here.

Land use patterns that carve up contiguous natural areas and isolate habitats make it harder for populations of plant and animal species to survive. Following the principles of island biogeography, natural areas act like forest islands in an ocean of agricultural land, subdivisions, shopping centers, and roads. The smaller the “island,” the fewer the species, and the greater the risk for the decline of species’ populations through loss of habitat, reproductive isolation, loss of genetic diversity, and increased predation.

A view of land and water protected by Sycamore along Beanblossom Creek

Small isolated habitats, and the plant and animal populations within them, are also more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Random catastrophic events like fires, floods, and droughts can wipe out entire populations. As seasonal weather patterns change, plant and animal species’ ranges will need to shift. What is suitable habitat for a certain species now may not be so twenty years from now.

Connecting habitats is a hallmark of conservation science. Providing for habitat connectivity allows species to move more freely, protected by a broader range of safe habitat. And it’s especially important as we respond to climate change.

Sycamore has always used the science of conservation biology as our guide. Habitat connectivity is one of the most important factors we consider when deciding whether to acquire a new parcel. By expanding and connecting our nature preserves, we’re helping to facilitate the movement of species between protected areas. This will only become more important as climate change forces species to shift their ranges.

Five years ago, Sycamore announced our Beanblossom Creek Bicentennial Conservation Area (BCBCA) project thanks to a matching grant from the Indiana Bicentennial Nature Trust. The BCBCA extends along the Beanblossom Creek watershed below Lake Lemon all the way to the confluence with the White River.

At the beginning of 2015, Sycamore owned or held a conservation easement on 692 acres in the BCBCA. Today we own and protect 1,591 acres. Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve, the Sam Shine Preserve, and the Dam Efroymson Preserve form the backbone of the protected land in the BCBCA. Sycamore intends to connect these large natural areas, which will prove particularly important for the rare, threatened, and endangered species documented on the Beanblossom Bottoms preserve like the eastern box turtle, Kirtland’s snake, and purple fringeless orchid.

Connectivity is a criterion that we use for every acquisition we consider, not just in the BCBCA. We evaluate the extent to which a parcel will enhance habitat connectivity to existing Sycamore preserves or other protected lands, such as state and national forests.

In 2017 the Hoot family donated Hoot Woods to Sycamore. This 80-acre wooded land in Owen County is one of the last remaining stands of old-growth forest in the state. In 2019, an anonymous donor gave 187 acres of beautiful woods not far from Hoot Woods. We hope to connect these two protected areas through more acquisitions, over time creating a preserve of 300 acres or more.

Your ongoing support enables science-driven conservation in southern Indiana, and is helping Sycamore anticipate the impacts of a changing climate on biodiversity. Because of you, we are preparing Indiana’s wilderness for a resilient future.

Thank you!