Pioneer in study of landscape fragmentation wins BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award
Lenore Fahrig, Professor of Biology at Carleton University, won the prestigious BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award in 2022 for her contributions to the field of spatial ecology. Dr. Fahrig studies the impacts of habitat fragmentation – and the loss of connectivity between remnant patches – on biodiversity.
She shares the BBVA Award, worth 400,000 EUR, with two other ecologists, Simon Levin and Steward Pickett, for incorporating the spatial dimension into ecosystem research.
Dr. Fahrig’s research on landscape fragmentation addresses practical questions: Is it better to create one large, protected area or many smaller ones? Should we create ‘ecological corridors’ between protected areas? How does the layout of roads impact ecosystems?
She “has developed theory-driven and data-proven ways for effectively reducing the effects of habitat loss by means of connectivity conservation,” says the awards committee. “Her work recognizes the critical role that road networks and small conservation areas play in altering the distribution and abundance of species.”
Dr. Fahrig’s work shows that small patches of protected land have value. This conclusion stems from her research on the impact of landscape structure on abundance, distribution and persistence of organisms. Since landscape structure is strongly affected by human activities such as forestry, agriculture and development, the results of her research are relevant to land-use decisions.
“There is a lot of intuitive thought about larger species or those endangered doing better in a larger block, such as species that do better in the interior of a forest,” she says. “This seems to make sense because if you have 10 small blocks you have more of the edge and less of the interior area of the forest that those species need. Some people think that means there would be more species in a bigger block than many small ones.
“This is a problem because if we assume that small parcels of habitat have low value for biodiversity, we can end up with thousands of small patches that have no protection, even though they host a great deal of biodiversity,” she says. “If they are destroyed the loss to biodiversity is huge.
Dr. Fahrig initiated new sub-fields including connectivity conservation. Hundreds of organizations around the world have used her research to refine their conservation policies and practices.
In 2021, Dr. Fahrig won the Guggenheim Fellowship.