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Creating Mosaic-Based Conservation Corridors to Respond to Major Threats in the Amazon Headwaters
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Creating Mosaic-Based Conservation Corridors to Respond to Major Threats in the Amazon Headwaters

Completion of the Interoceanic Highway through southeastern Peru threatens to ecologically sever the southwestern Amazon and eastern Andes, which contain one of the richest concentrations of terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity on the planet (Myers et al. 2000). Road and other infrastructure development characterized by limited planning and governance allow access to previously remote forests where the Andean highlands meet lowland forests, driving unprecedented land clearing and habitat degradation through illegal timber harvest, secondary road-building, hunting, expansion of agriculture and ranching, and rapid growth of informal gold mining. Planned development of large petroleum and gas reserves and hydropower-related dams also threaten the region.

Developing habitat corridors is considered one of the few effective methods for responding to the risk of large-scale land conversion (Powell and Bjork 1995, Beier and Noss 1998, Haddad et al. 2003). In North America, the Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) initiative is an emblematic example (Raimer and Ford 2005, Locke and Francis, this issue). In Europe, Natura 2000 directives establish a foundation to develop and protect bird migration corridors and habitats. Around the world, a number of international "mega-corridors" aim to tie together large protected areas, such as the Vilcabamba-Amboró Corridor (Bennett and Mulongoy 2006), Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (Kaiser 2001), and proposed Selous-Niassa Corridor in Africa (Jones et al. 2009). However, it remains unclear how successful regional conservation corridors can be in many areas of the developing world, where there is little legislative support, poor implementation of environmental policies, and, in many places, fast-paced and poorly planned development (e.g., Johnsingh and Williams 1999).

The Amazon Conservation Association (ACA), a partnership of Peruvian, Bolivian, and U.S. conservation organizations (www.amazonconservation.org), designed a suite of 3 interrelated conservation corridors in one such development frontier in the western Amazon-Andes in collaboration with a broad set of stakeholders. The Manu-Tambopata, Castaña, and Andean Cloud Forest Corridors attempt to mitigate major emerging threats to biodiversity and sustainable livelihoods (Table 1). While each area tends to be characterized by a primary, destabilizing force, these threats often overlap spatially and interact, exacerbating their effects.

Where human communities and high biodiversity must coexist, conservation strategies should maintain landscape connectivity while allowing for human use. In response to this challenge, ACA designed 3 corridors based on a land-use mosaic, which includes an array of rights-holders and land tenures in addition to conservation areas. Supported by both science and community engagement, each corridor design considers social and political dynamics as well as ecosystem processes. Anchored by large protected areas, these conservation corridors consist of a patchwork of land uses, which permit economic development while allowing for gene flow and species migration (Figure 1).

The Manu-Tambopata Corridor connects Manu National Park with Tambopata National Reserve via ACA's Los Amigos Conservation Concession. This last unprotected stretch of the Vilcabamba-Amboró Mega Corridor was split by the recently paved Interoceanic Highway, a cross-continental highway that stretches from Rio de Janeiro on the Atlantic to the pacific ports of Peru. Highway construction has transformed access to the region whose capital city was previously only accessible by river, air, or a difficult overland journey on an unpaved road. Since 2008, ACA has worked with local landowners, forest users, and regional government to create a conservation mosaic across 210,000 ha of tropical forest. The Castaña Corridor incorporates ACA's longstanding conservation efforts to develop Peru's first Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa) harvest concessions. We provide technical support and training to more than 400 families in eastern Madre de Dios to maintain standing forests and secure sustainable economic practices. These concessions and indigenous territories cover 354,500 ha of primary forest along the Interoceanic Highway.

The Andean Cloud Forest Corridor protects an unbroken stretch of forest from lowland valleys to Andean highlands between Manu and Bahuaja-Sonene National Parks. It aims to enhance connectivity in critical upper elevation zones, which are the least protected areas within Manu National Park. Climate change is expected to force species to migrate to higher elevations...