The importance of using sustainable use protected areas for functional connectivity
Functional connectivity, which represents the animal movement responses to landscape elements, should be considered when configuring protected areas. Each habitat patch has a different contribution to functional connectivity. Functional connectivity can be accessed through the Integral Index of Connectivity (IIC), which considers the habitat patch size, the amount of flux arriving to that patch, and the topological position of the patch within the habitat patch network. These four measures can be used as distinct criteria of functional connectivity to prioritise habitat patches. We analyzed how the spatial patterns of habitat patches varied according to these criteria. For each criterion, we ranked all habitat patches within five levels of importance, and identified whether priority habitat patches are protected. We found a positive relationship between the level of importance and the presence of core areas and corridors. Stepping stones presented the opposite relationship. For each criterion, only the highest levels of importance presented more core areas than connector areas (corridors and stepping stones). In the higher level of importance, core areas are mostly under strictly protected areas (IUCN categories I–IV), while connector areas are under the less restrictive category of sustainable use protected areas (SUAs, IUCN category V). Brazilian decision makers must consider the opportunity to protect connector areas under restrictive SUAs categories, such as Private Natural Heritage Reserve (IUCN category IV). Combine IIC and spatial patterns of habitat patches proved to be helpful to identify priority habitat patches for conservation and to indicate which class/category of protected areas should be established.