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Incorporating landscape ecology metrics into environmental impact assessment in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest

Evaluating the impacts of large infra-structure projects on biodiversity is challenging, especially for linear projects such as power lines, which may extend over large geographical areas. Here we show how landscape metrics can be easily incorporated into Environmental Impact Assessment to identify the best alternative location for implementing linear infrastructures. To do so, we evaluated as a case study three alternative paths presented in the Environmental Impact Assessment of a power line in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. For each path, we calculated habitat availability – an integrative metric that combines habitat amount and connectivity – for eight hypothetical species, and four complementary metrics for comparison (habitat amount and number, size and isolation of habitat patches). Habitat availability varied substantially among alternative paths, being up to 46% higher for one path compared to another one. Complementary landscape metrics varied little among alternative paths, and did not converge for the same results of habitat availability, most likely because these metrics do not consider connectivity, a critical ecological attribute of landscapes affected by power lines. Our results indicate that habitat availability can be a useful metric to inform landscape-level decision making involved in Environmental Impact Assessment, particularly in transmission line projects.

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