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Informing Canada’s commitment to biodiversity conservation: A science-based framework to help guide protected areas designation through Target 1 and beyond

  • Nature Conservancy of Canada

Abstract and Figures

Biodiversity is intrinsically linked to the health of our planet—and its people. Yet, increasingly, human activities are causing the extinction of species, degrading ecosystems, and reducing nature’s resilience to climate change and other threats. As a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Canada has a legal responsibility to protect 17% of land and freshwater by 2020. Currently, Canada has protected ∼10% of its terrestrial lands, requiring a marked increase in the pace and focus of protection over the next three years. Given the distribution, extent, and geography of Canada’s current protected areas, systematic conservation planning would provide decision-makers with a ranking of the potential for new protected area sites to stem biodiversity loss and preserve functioning ecosystems. Here, we identify five key principles for identifying lands that are likely to make the greatest contribution to reversing biodiversity declines and ensuring biodiversity persistence into the future. We identify current gaps and integrate principles of protecting (i) species at risk, (ii) representative ecosystems, (iii) intact wilderness, (iv) connectivity, and (v) climate refugia. This spatially explicit assessment is intended as an ecological foundation that, when integrated with social, economic and governance considerations, would support evidence-based protected area decision-making in Canada.
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Informing Canadas commitment to
biodiversity conservation: A science-based
framework to help guide protected areas
designation through Target 1 and beyond
Laura E. Coristine
, Aerin L. Jacob
, Richard Schuster
, Sarah P. Otto
, Nancy E. Baron
Nathan J. Bennett
, Sarah Joy Bittick
, Cody Dey
, Brett Favaro
, Adam Ford
, Linda Nowlan
Diane Orihel
, Wendy J. Palen
, Jean L. Polfus
, David S. Shiffman
, Oscar Venter
and Stephen Woodley
Department of Biology, The University of British Columbia - Okanagan Campus, 1177 Research Road,
Kelowna, BC V1V 1V7, Canada;
Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, 200-1350 Railway Ave.,
Canmore, AB T1W 1P6, Canada;
Department of Biology, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive,
Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6, Canada;
Natural Resource and Environmental Studies Institute, University of
Northern British Columbia, 3333 University Way, Prince George, BC V2N 4Z9, Canada;
Research Centre & Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, 6270 University Blvd.,
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada;
COMPASS, National Center of Ecological Analysis and Synthesis,
735 State St. Santa Barbara, CA 93103, USA;
Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability,
University of British Columbia, 2202 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada;
Great Lakes Institute
for Environmental Research, University of Windsor, 401 Sunset Drive, Windsor, ON N9B 3P4, Canada;
School of Fisheries, Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland, 155 Ridge
Road, St. Johns, NL A1C 5R3, Canada;
West Coast Environmental Law, 200-2006 10th Ave, Vancouver,
BC V6J 2B3, Canada;
School of Environmental Studies and Department of Biology, Queens University,
116 Barrie Street, Kingston, ON K7L 3N6, Canada;
Earth to Ocean Research Group, Simon Fraser
University, 8888 University Dr., Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6, Canada;
Biology Department, Trent University,
2140 East Bank Drive, Peterborough, ON K9J 7B8, Canada;
IUCN World Commission on Protected
Areas, 64 Chemin Juniper, Chelsea, QC J9B 1T3, Canada
Liber Ero Fellowship Program.
Lead authors.
Biodiversity is intrinsically linked to the health of our planetand its people. Yet, increasingly,
human activities are causing the extinction of species, degrading ecosystems, and reducing natures
resilience to climate change and other threats. As a signatory to the Convention on Biological
Diversity, Canada has a legal responsibility to protect 17% of land and freshwater by 2020.
Currently, Canada has protected 10% of its terrestrial lands, requiring a marked increase in the pace
and focus of protection over the next three years.
Given the distribution, extent, and geography of Canadas current protected areas, systematic
conservation planning would provide decision-makers with a ranking of the potential for new pro-
tected area sites to stem biodiversity loss and preserve functioning ecosystems. Here, we identify five
key principles for identifying lands that are likely to make the greatest contribution to reversing
biodiversity declines and ensuring biodiversity persistence into the future. We identify current gaps
and integrate principles of protecting (i) species at risk, (ii) representative ecosystems, (iii)intact
Citation: Coristine LE, Jacob AL, Schuster R,
Otto SP, Baron NE, Bennett NJ, Bittick SJ,
Dey C, Favaro B, Ford A, Nowlan L,
Orihel D, Palen WJ, Polfus JL, Shiffman DS,
Venter O, and Woodley S. 2018. Informing
Canadas commitment to biodiversity
conservation: A science-based framework to
help guide protected areas designation
through Target 1 and beyond. FACETS 3:
531562. doi:10.1139/facets-2017-0102
Handling Editor: Jeffrey Hutchings
Received: August 15, 2017
Accepted: January 31, 2018
Published: May 14, 2018
Copyright: © 2018 Coristine et al. This
work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY
4.0), which permits unrestricted use,
distribution, and reproduction in any
medium, provided the original author(s) and
source are credited.
Published by: Canadian Science Publishing
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wilderness, (iv) connectivity, and (v) climate refugia. This spatially explicit assessment is intended as
an ecological foundation that, when integrated with social, economic and governance considerations,
would support evidence-based protected area decision-making in Canada.
Key words: protected areas, conservation planning, gap analysis, Aichi Target 11, threat reduction,
The worlds biological diversity is facing a substantial threat of loss due to human activity (Barnosky
et al. 2011;Ceballos et al. 2015;De Vos et al. 2015;Urban 2015;Ceballos et al. 2017). Globally, it is
estimated that humans have raised the rate of speciesextinction 1000 times over background rates
(Ceballos et al. 2015;De Vos et al. 2015), with these rates expected to rise with future climate change
(Thomas et al. 2004;Urban 2015). Protected areasnational parks, reserves, special management
zonesare one effective tool to protect biodiversity (Chape et al. 2005;LeSaoutetal.2013).
Protected areas reduce the scale or intensity of negative human activities and are most effective when
identified through ecological assessment (Locke 2015;Belote et al. 2017;Saura et al. 2017). The
decision-making criteria and processes used to locate new protected areas dramatically affect biodi-
versity outcomes (Svancara et al. 2005;Venter et al. 2017), future land-use patterns (Ellis and
Ramankutty 2008;Ellis et al. 2010;Venter et al. 2016), and human well-being (e.g., where tied to eco-
system services such as pollination and flood control; see Naidoo et al. 2006;Kaplan-Hallam and
Bennett 2017), thereby altering conservation efficacy.
One hundred and sixty-eight countries have signed and ratified the Convention on Biological
Diversity (CBD), which enshrines national commitments to conservation of biodiversity. Of these
signatories, Canada is the second-largest country and is in a strong position to create positive
biodiversity outcomes. Following adoption of the CBD Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and the Aichi
Biodiversity Targets 20112020, Canada set 19 specific national targets related to biodiversity conser-
vation in the 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada (ECCC 2016a). Canada Target 1 is a
restatement of quantitative aspects of Aichi Target 11, namely protection of 17% (1.70 million km
of terrestrial and freshwater areas by 2020. As of June 2017, 10.6% (1.05 million km
) of Canadas
lands had received such protection (GC 2017). From an ecological perspective, the proportion of pro-
tected area required to ensure the persistence of biodiversity is substantially greater, with estimates
varying from 25%75% (Svancara et al. 2005;Noss et al. 2012;Locke 2015;Dinerstein et al. 2017).
Protected areas, in and of themselves, are not sufficient to reverse biodiversity declines but must be
complemented by appropriate governance and careful management of lands (Geldmann et al. 2015)
in and out of protected areas. We acknowledge the importance of additional measures to reverse bio-
diversity decline but focus here on ecological criteria to select protected areas.
Specific, critical elements of Aichi Target 11 state that protected area conservation should include
areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services that are ecologically represen-
tative and well connected and integrated into the broader landscape and seascape. These qualitative
elements (for a discussion see Rees et al. 2017) are vital to evidence-based efforts to reverse biodiver-
sity decline and, although not included in written text for Canada Target 1, have been represented as
part of Canada Target 1 (McKenna 2017). As such, we hereafter refer interchangeably to Aichi
Target 11 and Canada Target 1 to encompass Canadas commitment to reduce biodiversity decline
through establishment of protected areas.
Achieving Aichi Target 11 will require a marked increase in both the pace and focus of protection
both globally (Butchart et al. 2010;Watson et al. 2016b) and in Canada (Standing Committee on
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Environment and Sustainable Development 2017). Protected area planning that explicitly incorpo-
rates biophysical science into decision-making produces better protection outcomes than processes
that do not (Watson et al. 2011;Bottrill and Pressey 2012) and can increase the quality of protected
areas (Svancara et al. 2005;Ruckelshaus et al. 2015). Recently, the Canadian government formed a
National Advisory Panel (NAP 2017) with the goal to develop a pathway, grounded in science and
traditional knowledge, to achieve Canada Target 1(, but
there is no transparent process by which this grounding in science occurs. Nor is there public infor-
mation about an overarching framework used to incorporate the different scientific principles that
could guide an evidence-based decision process.
Here, we use biophysical science to help identify priority areas for protection under CanadasTarget
1 and, ultimately, to reduce biodiversity loss. Our focus is solely on terrestrial protected areas. We
do not consider freshwater protected areas, which require different management approaches and
involve a different suite of biophysical processes (see Chu et al. 2003;Chessman 2013;Chu et al.
2014;Grantham et al. 2017). Marine protected areas are dealt with in a separate, parallel policy
process and are similarly excluded. Many candidate sites for expanding Canadas protected area
network have already been identified through a variety of processes and plans (e.g., Parks
Canadas system plan, Key Biodiversity Areas, Indigenous and community-conserved areas, land-
trust acquisition plans, regional land-use plans, provincial and territorial protected area strategies).
Such sites have been put forth based on differing criteria, however, and could benefit from being
placed in a common framework to reach national conservation goals. An operational policy for
the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change is needed to move Canada forward along
the Pathway to Target 1. Ideally, to increase consistency of conservation decision-making, such a
policy would be based on a transparent and objective approach where biophysical science is consid-
ered explicitly and then integrated with socioeconomic and governance criteria. Below, we develop
such a scientific framework, which can form a base for integration of community, socio-economic,
and governance issues to achieve Target 1 (see section: A framework to guide Canadasprotected
area planning).
The Canadian context for protected areas: threats to
biodiversity in Canada
Canadians across political and demographic lines generally support effective environmental man-
agement: nearly all Canadians (97%) consider the protection of Canadas endangered biodiversity
(McCune et al. 2017). Human pressures on the environment have had profound detri-
mental impacts on species across the globe (Ceballos et al. 2015;seeBox S1). Even within
Canada, a country with vast remaining wilderness and an international reputation for natural
resources (Watson et al. 2016a), human-dominated regions show extensive biodiversity loss
(see Fig. 1;Fig. 2;Coristine and Kerr 2011;McCune et al. 2013). The populations of hundreds
of wildlife species have declined rapidly in Canada over the past 150 years, placing them at
risk of extinction (
endangered-wildlife.html). Although the precise causes are often species specific (McCune et al.
2013), habitat loss and destruction explain most declines for endangered terrestrial species
(Venter et al. 2006). Areas of intensive agriculture and urbanization (Kerr and Cihlar 2004;
Coristine and Kerr 2011), transportation networks (Robillard et al. 2015), industrial operations
such as mining and smelting (Bayne et al. 2008;Kelly et al. 2009;Hebblewhite 2017), and develop-
ment of wetlands (van Asselen et al. 2013) put intense pressure on ecosystems. A warming climate
64% very, 33% somewhat (Ipsos Reid 2012)
Coristine et al.
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further threatens organisms, species, communities, and ecosystems in a myriad of unanticipated
ways (Urban et al. 2016), particularly when populations must shift poleward through fragmented
and degraded habitats to track suitable climates (Robillard et al. 2015).
Thecumulativeeffectsofextinctionthreatscanbe far more devastating than expected from the
component threats alone (Schindler and Lee 2010;Coristine and Kerr 2011). The interactions of
multiple extinction threats are most apparent in southern Canada where the highest concentration
of land-use changes (Kerr and Cihlar 2004) and greatest loss of species habitat occur (Kerr and
Deguise 2004). Unfortunately, ecological thresholds of cumulative effects are poorly understood
Fig. 1. Current and historic land-use legacies in Canada. See Supplement S1 for data sources. Differing land-use legacies represent distinct conservation chal-
lenges for biodiversity (Locke 2017).
Coristine et al.
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(Kreutzweiser et al. 2013). A precautionary approach to conservation planning and land-use manage-
ment is needed to guard against these cumulative extinction threats (Gonzalez-Suarez and Revilla 2014).
Key principles of biodiversity conservation
In this paper, we discuss five key biodiversity conservation principles that can be used to facilitate an
evidence-based approach to the establishment of protected areas under Target 1. We identify gaps in
protection in Canada and illustrate how these principles can be integrated to identify areas with great-
est potential to improve biodiversity prospects.
Fig. 2. Range overlap of species at risk within Canada (data from ECCC 2016c). Southern Canada, with the greatest numbers of species at risk, coincides with
the most developed areas.
Coristine et al.
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Principle 1: protect species at risk
Protection of species at risk is essential to biodiversity conservation. Areas with the greatest loss of
biodiversity tend to occur in highly developed southern portions of Canada and represent regions where
the greatest strides can be made to reverse biodiversity decline.
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assesses the status of
wildlife species or other designatable units and has identified 735 species at risk of extinction.
Three-quarters of these species are legally listed under the Species At Risk Act (SARA) (ECCC
2017) and protected against intentional harming or killing. SARA does not automatically protect
the habitat of these species (Bird and Hodges 2017), which is only legally designated once a recovery
strategy is finalized. Critical habitat protection generally only applies on federal land (5% of land
within the provinces) unless the species is aquatic or a migratory bird or an emergency order is issued.
Climatic requirements are not currently included in critical habitat designations, making it difficult to
plan for future habitat needs.
Indeed, there is clear evidence that current protection for Canadian species at risk is not sufficient;
even after being designated under COSEWIC, the status of many species at risk in Canada continues
to decline. Where species have been reassessed by COSEWIC, declines outnumber improvements by
more than two to one (Favaro et al. 2014). Further, one-quarter of the observed improvements were
driven by increased sampling effort, not intensified conservation efforts (Favaro et al. 2014).
Increasing protected areas within regions where species are currently threatened is central to reducing
biodiversity loss (Fig. 2). Ecological restoration will often be needed to ensure that these already
impacted landscapes increase local biodiversity (Benayas et al. 2009) and effectively connect popula-
tions (see Principle 4; MGonigle et al. 2015;Foster et al. 2017). Canada Target 1 has the potential
to dramatically improve conservation for species at risk through well-situated protected areas
(Venter et al. 2014) that include critical habitat and restoration of degraded lands. To prevent further
erosion of Canadas biodiversity, this principle should be prioritized.
Principle 2: represent ecosystem diversity
Minimum protection targets for each Canadian ecoregion can ensure persistence of a variety of
ecosystem services (e.g., flood control, carbon sequestration), as well as preserve diverse ecological
Canada is home to a diversity of biological communities with unique interacting species in habitats
ranging from the desert of southern British Columbia to the tundra of the Arctic territories.
Preserving biodiversity across this array of habitats is only possible if functional ecosystems remain
intact in each (see Principles 1 and 4). Aichi Target 11 recommends protecting a minimum of
10% in each ecoregionto ensure representativeness ( Thus,
a second principle when prioritizing candidate protected areas for Target 1 is representativity.
Maintaining representative areas of Canadas diverse ecosystems allows people to benefit from the
various ecosystem services that these regions provide (deGrootetal.2002;Carpenter et al. 2009).
Ecosystem services are place specific, so preserving large, well-connected, representative areas for
major ecosystems of Canada is similar to an insurance policy against losing these services.
The scale and criteria used to specify ecoregionscan dramatically influence conservation decisions
around representativeness. Ecoregions are defined as large units of land containing a distinct assem-
blage of natural communities and species, with boundaries that approximate the original extent of
natural communities prior to major land-use change(Olsonetal.2001,p.933). We recommend
Canadas 194 terrestrial ecoregions, as developed by the National Ecological Framework for Canada
(NEFC) (ESWG 1995), as an appropriate scale for defining representativeness in Canada rather than
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the coarser ecozones currently considered by Environment Canada (e.g., ECCC 2016b;seeFig. S1)or
the parks planning regions considered by Parks Canada (2014). For example, one of 18 terrestrial eco-
zones (, the Boreal Shield, is massive, extending from Alberta to
Newfoundland (1.8 million km
) and encompassing a wide variety of ecosystems (from the sand
dunes of the Athabasca plains to the heathlands of the Maritime barrens). Using too coarse a scale
for ecological representativeness could result in the loss of unique biological communities that are
excluded from protected area conservation targets. This is especially true when there are limited data
available regarding community structure and risk of extirpation of component species (see Table 1).
The current extent of protection varies widely among Canadian ecoregions. Several ecoregions have
no protection (e.g., Takijua Lake Upland, Mackenzie Delta), whereas others are almost entirely pro-
tected (e.g., Mount Logan, Nahanni Plateau). Only 67 of Canadas 194 ecoregions meet the Aichi
Target 11 minimum of 10% protection by ecoregion (Fig. 3). Furthermore, for many ecoregions, pro-
tected areas are in small and isolated parcels; few ecoregions have large contiguous protected areas
(Fig. 3(b)).
Table 1. Data availability and outstanding data needs for each of the five conservation principles.
Principle Data used Priority Outstanding data requirements
Species at risk Range maps for 490 species at risk
Greatest overlap for species at risk Range maps for unmapped species at risk
Critical habitat maps for species at risk
Climatic habitat maps for species at risk
Backlogged species awaiting listing decisions
Global responsibility for species
Representativeness Protected areas meeting Aichi
Target 11
Ecoregions with least protected areas Environmental diversity
Ecoregion boundaries
Ecosystem services
Wilderness Human population density 2015
Least human impact
Global Forest Watch, Access 2010
Land Cover 2015
Connectivity Current connectivity initiatives
Pre-existing connectivity effort Migration routes for diverse species
Riparian buffer zone
01500 m buffer on major rivers and lakes Structural connectivity assessments
Climate change resilience Climate change resilience map
Areas with lowest velocity, fewest extremes,
and consistent seasonal and annual changes
Climate connectivity
ECCC, SARA database.
NEFC (1996).
Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN)Columbia University (2016).
Global Forest Watch Canada (2014,2016).
European Space Agency Climate Change Initiative (2017).
CANVEC (2013).
Coristine et al. 2016; derived from climate data at (including McKenney et al. 2011).
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Fig. 3. The current extent of protection within each of Canadas 194 terrestrial ecoregions. Percent of each ecoregion that (a) is protected and (b) contains pro-
tected areas >5000 km
(CCEA 2016). Ecoregions are based on the National Ecological Framework for Canada (NEFC 1996;ESWG 1995).
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Principle 3: conserve remaining wilderness
Intact wilderness areas are the least impacted by human activities; their protection preserves more natu-
ral ecological communities. Protected wilderness areas should be large to minimize human impacts from
outside the protected area and retain natural processes such as fire regimes and long-distance
The third principle protects large, intact land, which in Canada remains mainly in the north (Fig. 1).
Canada has the ability and, arguably, a global responsibility to preserve much of the worlds remain-
ing wilderness. Protecting large undisturbed areas ensures that the complete suite of biological proc-
esses remain relatively unperturbed and retains future potential for ecological and evolutionary
adaptation (Turner et al. 2007;Wilson et al. 2009;Pereira et al. 2010;butforadissentingview,see
Bush et al. 2017). For example, the Canadian boreal has a high density of carbon storage, and its pro-
tection would also reduce carbon release (Bala et al. 2007;Bonan 2008). Further, intact wilderness
areas are less likely to be affected by human-introduced diseases (Foley et al. 2005) or invasive species
(Didham et al. 2005) and provide improved biodiversity outcomes for species impacted by climate
change (Martin and Watson 2016; Principle 5). Protecting northern ecosystems is also important
for maintaining and strengthening Indigenous governance in land stewardship (Murray and King
2012), in a region that is disproportionately threatened by climate change (Durkalec et al. 2015).
Tracts of ecologically intact wilderness have been lost across the globe; less than 25% of non-barren
ice-free land remains free from anthropogenic use (Ellis and Ramankutty 2008;Venter et al. 2016;
Watson et al. 2016a). Yet intact wilderness supports high levels of biodiversity (Gurd et al. 2001;
Pollock et al. 2017), diverse communities (see Crooks 2002;Ferraz et al. 2003;Gibson et al. 2013), eco-
system services (Bala et al. 2007), and processes such as fire regimes (Gill et al. 2013;Stephens et al.
2014). Canada contains fully one-third of the worlds remaining non-barren wilderness areas
(Fig. S2;Ellis and Ramankutty 2008) and almost one-quarter of the worlds intact forests (Potapov
et al. 2017). Much of Canada remains isolated from transportation infrastructure, human land-use
change, and other development (Venter et al. 2016).
To ensure wilderness areas remain intact and to allow natural processes such as fire and long-distance
migration to occur within them, areas protected under this principle should be large in size.
Long-term persistence of species (Principle 1) is compromised when insufficient area is protected
due to the risk of local extinction and the difficulty of recolonization when populations are uncon-
nected (Haddad et al. 2015;Belote et al. 2016; Principle 4). Although the minimum area for an effec-
tive reserve depends on the ecosystem and organism assemblage, assessments of mammalian data
from contiguous and fragmented areas found that reserves >5 000 km
would likely conserve the his-
toric assemblage of species (Gurd et al. 2001). Within Canada, relatively few protected areas exceed
this size (Fig. 3(b)).
Principle 4: ensure connectivity and resilience
Ecological connectivity is important at local, regional, and national scales, promoting opportunities for
speciesnatural movements. Resilience of populations and species can be fostered through strategic pro-
tection of areas that increase connectivity.
The fourth principle, connectivity, promotes natural movements for wide-ranging species
(see Di Minin et al. 2016), prevents breeding populations from becoming isolated (Haddad et al.
2015;Belote et al. 2016), and facilitates south-to-north and elevational movement of individuals that
are shifting geographically in response to changing climates (Coristine and Kerr 2015;Robillard
et al. 2015). Long-term experiments have shown that fragmentation of landscapes reduces biodiver-
sity by 13%75%, lowering speciesabundance and persistence times (Haddad et al. 2015,
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but see Fahrig 2003). Additionally, connecting fragmented landscapes through corridors reduces spe-
cies loss (Principle 1; see Crooks et al. 2017;Thompson and Gonzalez 2017), improves core ecosystem
functions (Principle 2; see Hauer et al. 2016), and can contribute to the provision of some ecosystem
services (Mitchell et al. 2013), such as pollination (MGonigle et al. 2015).
Unfortunately, there is no current analysis on the connectivity needs of diverse species in Canada.
Nevertheless, Canada Target 1 can be guided by existing initiatives that have highlighted priority areas
for connectivity planning. For example, at a large landscape level, the Yellowstone to Yukon
Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) aims to protect and connect habitat over 1.3 million km
across the
western United States and Canada to increase connectivity between core areas for wide-ranging spe-
cies such as caribou (e.g., Rangifer tarandus (Linnaeus, 1758)), wolverines (e.g., Gulo gulo
(Linnaeus, 1758)), wolves (e.g., Canis lupus Linnaeus, 1758), and grizzly bears (e.g., Ursus arctos
Linnaeus, 1758) (Chester et al. 2012;Fig. S4). Furthermore, migratory songbirds have been used to
define corridors (e.g., Boreal Songbird Initiative). Although connectivity initiatives may focus on spe-
cific taxa, these often serve as umbrella speciesto protect connectivity for non-focal taxa (Carroll
et al. 2003;Steenweg 2016). For example, the Boreal Songbird Initiative encompasses the range of
the threatened boreal woodland caribou (e.g., Rangifer tarandus caribou (Gmelin, 1788)), so efforts
to increase protection and connectivity for songbirds would also benefit caribou.
In addition to previously identified connectivity priorities, connectivity can be improved by protect-
ing land around waterways (Hilty and Merenlender 2004;Hauer et al. 2016). Besides facilitating wild-
life movement, setbacks around streams reduce threats to semiaquatic species (Saunders et al. 2002),
integrate freshwater and terrestrial communities (Adams et al. 2014), and protect water quality
(Dosskey et al. 2010;Hauer et al. 2016). Federal and provincial guidelines (e.g., minimum 30 m ripar-
ian strips on each side of a stream; Chilibeck et al. 1992;Environment Canada 2013) are a start, but
they are not mandated for all land and are typically too small to gain the full benefits of riparian buff-
ers. Indeed, research indicates that terrestrial species preferentially use vegetated riparian land up to
1500 m from freshwater streams (Hilty and Merenlender 2004). Prioritizing the protection of larger
riparian buffers would thus contribute to improved connectivity and biodiversity health across
Principle 5: preserve climate refugia
Protecting areas with milder climate change reduces the risk to species from extreme climatic events
(such as heat waves, hurricanes, and drought) and from insufficient tracking of preferred environmental
The risks of climate change to biodiversity can be reduced by preferentially protecting areas that
currentlyor are predicted toexperience less climate change and fewer extreme climatic events
(Moritz and Agudo 2013;Coristine et al. 2016; see also Table 1). Climatically stable areas (climate
refugia) foster the persistence of biological communities (Iwamura et al. 2010) and facilitate popula-
tion movement from current to future suitable habitat (Robillard et al. 2015;Coristine et al. 2016;
McGuire et al. 2016).
Climate change is expected to have ever increasing negative impacts for the majority of species as geo-
graphic distributions diverge from climatically suitable habitat and resource regions. In songbirds,
asynchrony between food availability and migration arrival has led to population declines (Mayor
et al. 2017). Inadequate expansion of range limits in response to climate change has caused compres-
sion of speciesranges (Coristine and Kerr 2015). Extreme climatic events are linked to reproductive
failure (Bolger et al. 2005) and population loss (Williams et al. 2013;Oliver et al. 2015). Given
Canadas large area, position as a polar country, and the number of species whose ranges have already
shifted, from birds (Foden et al. 2013;Coristine and Kerr 2015) to trees (Aitken et al. 2008),
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Canada may well witness more biodiversity redistribution in the face of climate change than most
other countries. Both protecting climate refugia (Coristine et al. 2016)andensuringhabitat
connectivity (see Principle 4) reduce the threat to biodiversity from climate change (Saura et al.
2014;Saura et al. 2017).
A framework to guide Canadas protected area planning
We call for a framework, illustrated in Fig. 4, to govern protected area identification, which uses system-
atic conservation planning (Margules and Pressey 2000) to guide decisions in a way that explicitly incor-
porates both biophysical and socio-economic evidence. As a preliminary step, we identify conservation
gaps and discuss candidate areas based on the five scientific ecological principles. Subsequent work must
next incorporate site-specific ecological analysis and socio-economic and governance considerations
into the planning process for protected area prioritization.
Identify conservation deficits
Because existing protected area networks are biased towards particular ecoregions (Dinerstein et al.
2017;Fig. 3) and are unequally distributed with respect to taxa (Rodrigues et al. 2004b), an important
first stage in any protected area selection process is to identify conservation deficits (Fig. 4). These
gap analysesallow quantitative comparisons between biodiversity targets and protected area perfor-
mance and identify missing components in protection (e.g., Table 1;Scott et al. 1993;Jennings 2000;
Rodrigues et al. 2004a). Gaps and opportunities were identified for each of the five principles. We
used geographic information system (GIS) methods to map the number of species at risk according
to their range maps (Principle 1, Fig. 2), quantify the amount of protected area in each ecoregion
(Principle 2, Fig. 3), measure wilderness according to the absence of intense human pressure and
assign a higher rank to areas of at least 5000 km
of contiguous wilderness (Principle 3), highlight
areas that have been previously identified as important for connectivity or that improve connectivity
along waterways (Principle 4), and evaluate areas with the greatest climatic stability (Principle 5; see
Supplement S1 for further details on methodology).
Although not performed here, gap analyses can also identify deficits in protected area governance
structures and management regimes. As an example, the lack of formal recognition in Canadian law
for tribal parks and other Indigenous models of stewardship (TRCC 2015), so that very few protected
areas are governed by Indigenous peoples (Table 2, Canadian Protected Area Status Report
20122015), represents a governance-related gap within Canadian protected areas currently being
addressed by the Pathway to Canada Target 1 Indigenous Circle of Experts
Identify candidate areas
Following the identification of gaps, a second stage involves integrating the five principles to identify
candidate protected area sites with the highest rankings. We integrated the data on gaps and opportu-
nities for the five conservation principles to identify areas with broad potential to stem biodiversity
decline and preserve biodiversity into the future. For illustration purposes, we used two distinct
weighting procedures: equal weighting across each of the five principles (Fig. 5(a)); and a relative
weighting according to land-use legacy in Canada (Fig. 5(b);Locke 2017): within the heavily
settled/agricultural regions in the south, the areas of heavy resource extraction in middle latitudes,
and the least impacted areas to the north (Fig. 1;seealsoFoster et al. 2003). A relative weighting
reduces the likelihood that highly developed regions will be overlooked based on ecological principles
that can no longer be attained due to land-use legacy (e.g., wilderness). This relative weighting may be
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Fig. 4. Description of scientific tools and processes for systematic conservation decision-making. The columns on the right indicate hypothetical progress
towards conservation goals according to the five conservation principles. Governance, economic, social, and cultural values, as well as immediacy of threat
and opportunity costs, are integrated into the process of identifying protected areas, building upon an initial assessment of conservation gaps. GIS, geographic
information system.
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useful in developing a balanced conservation approach across Canada, protecting wilderness where
available but also protecting biodiversity where it is most at risk (e.g., the mixed-wood plains of southern
Ontario; see Table S1 for a list of ecoregions containing sites with the highest composite score).
Not all of the above principles can be simultaneously optimized in any process to designate pro-
tected areas. Different approaches to protected areas may be necessary depending on context, for
instance preserving wilderness areas that remain relatively intact (a proactive approach) versus pre-
serving areas under threat from past and ongoing human development (a reactive approach)
(Brooks et al. 2006;Watson et al. 2016b). Prioritizing ecologically representative areas (proactive)
will tend to protect areas that do not currently contain neighboring protected areas, whereas areas
that improve connectivity (reactive) will tend to fill in gaps between adjacent protected areas.
Optimization methods can be used to identify which additional protected areas would satisfy the
most principles and can allow regionally relevant priorities to be incorporated (Gjertsen and
Barrett 2004;Kujala et al. 2013;Ekroos et al. 2014;Setälä et al. 2014). We developed a web-based
application that allows the data to be explored more fully and that allows users to identify candidate
areas based on different weightings of the conservation principles (
Consider human dimensions
Ultimately, the environmental principle that is most important in any given region depends not only
on the distribution of species and ecosystems at risk but also on socio-economic and governance con-
siderations (i.e., which are infrequently incorporated as spatial data; Mangubhai et al. 2015). For in-
stance, information on immediacy of threats (not included in our analyses) would likely enhance
the importance of regions where species at risk occur, notably in the Okanagan, prairies and mixed-
wood plains or regions at risk of imminent development such as the Peace Lowland (see Table S1).
Nevertheless, separating environmental scientific criteria as illustrated above from social, economic,
and governance considerations provides clarity in conservation decision-making processes, offering
a clear delineation between what biophysical science indicates and the other key aspects that must
enter into policy decisions (Mooers et al. 2010). Moving forward, input from local communities and
other stakeholder groups needs to be integrated (Brooks et al. 2012;Bennettetal.2017;Charnley
et al. 2017). Numerous considerations inform decision-making at this stage including: immediacy of
Table 2. The total area protected and counting towards Aichi 11 under each governance type within Canada.
Governance type Examples
Area protected under
Aichi 11 (ha)
Federal National parks, national wildlife areas, and migratory bird sanctuaries 64 193 509
Provincial Provincial parks, nature reserves, and conservation reserves 37 794 901
Indigenous peoples Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, tribal parks, Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas,
and Indigenous Protected Areas
97 682
Non-profit organization Conservation easements and private lands that qualify as other effective area-based conservation
12 079
Shared governance Territorial parks, co-management board 2 315 087
Not reported 880 737
Note: Data source: Canadian Council on Ecological Areas (, data accessed: 30 November 2016). Data for the
protected areas in Quebec were requested from Directorate of Protected Areas of the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and
Climate Change, Quebec (data version: 2 December 2016).
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Fig. 5. Hotspots for candidate Canadian protected areas based on scientific ecological principles of (i) species at risk, (ii) current representativeness within ecor-
egions, (iii) wilderness, (iv) connectivity, and (v) climate change resilience. Maps are (a) based on equal weighting of principles across Canada and (b) relative to
Canadas historical land-use legacies (see Foster et al. 2003;Fig. 1) of urbanization, resource extraction, and wilderness. Warmer colours represent areas with the
potential to make a greater contribution to reversing biodiversity decline and preserving biodiversity for future generations. Note that these hotspots do not
incorporate considerations such as social, political, economic, immediacy of threat, or opportunity costs. Alternative methods to combine scientific ecological
principles are possible through an online web application (see
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threats, implications of biodiversity loss for future generations, evaluation of social and economic
constraints and opportunity costs, community conservation practices, historical use, local livelihoods,
cultural values (particularly for Indigenous communities), and input of expertise across a variety of
knowledge systems. Integrating these considerations through an open and transparent process can
increase public acceptance and support for protected areas.
Identify new protected areas
With a framework in place that incorporates both scientific evidence and social, cultural, and eco-
nomic factors that influence protected area support and viability, quantitative modelling of alternative
scenarios can rank areas that best protect biodiversity and have the greatest community support
(Margules and Pressey 2000;Game et al. 2013;Mantyka-Pringle et al. 2016;Martin et al. 2017).
These methods can account for economic considerations (such as land acquisition and management
costs or costs of lost economic development opportunities; see Naidoo et al. 2006) as well as incorpo-
rate a wide range of values derived from consultations and rigorous social science to understand the
needs and perspectives of diverse stakeholders (Bennett et al. 2017). Spatial decision-making methods
rely on a quantitative set of rules to generate priorities for allocating limited conservation resources in
service of specified objectives (Margules and Pressey 2000,Margules and Sarkar 2007). Such spatial
conservation planning tools (e.g., Marxan, Zonation, C-Plan) (Moilanen et al. 2009) have been used
by a variety of conservation organizations and governments (Groves et al. 2002;Fernandes et al.
2005;Kremen et al. 2008).
Designate appropriate governance
A final important step in this process is to identify the type of protected area governance that is appro-
priate, feasible, and can be effectively implemented (Borrini-Feyerabend et al. 2013). Terrestrial con-
servation in Canada is complicated by the fact that multiple jurisdictions, with distinct laws and
priorities, must work together to identify, establish, and manage protected areas. There are multiple
legal designations for protected areas (Table 2), including those under the jurisdiction of the federal
government, provincial or territorial governments, Indigenous peoples, as well as privately protected
areas without formal legal designation. Choosing the appropriate type of governance may influence
the efficacy of protected area establishment and management (Lockwood 2010;Borrini-Feyerabend
et al. 2013;Bennett and Dearden 2014) and should be evaluated in relation to protected area targets
under Aichi Target 11. For example, approaches that foster cooperation with neighbouring commun-
ities (Fraser et al. 2006) and among agencies and jurisdictions (Dearden and Rollins 2016;Reed 2016)
result in more functional and robust conservation initiatives. In some places, the designation of other
effective area-based conservation measuresmay be more desirable than protected areas under
national or provincial jurisdiction.
Putting the pieces together: establishing protected areas in
Using a framework to evaluate the biodiversity value of areas for protection can help guard against
protected areas with little value for either development (e.g., agriculture) or species protection
(Venter et al. 2017). For example, biases have historically led to protected areas being located on lands
with higher elevations and steeper slopes (Margules and Pressey 2000;Joppa and Pfaff 2009).
Conservation planning, based on a suite of complementary approaches that encompass both proac-
tive and reactive management principles (Brooks et al. 2006), is needed to avoid protection bias and
to promote resilience into the future (Margules and Pressey 2000;Hannah et al. 2007;Beier and
Brost 2010). Prioritizing protected area planning across multiple conservation principles would pro-
vide the additional benefit of balancing Canadas conservation portfolio to counter the loss of
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biodiversity where impacts are highest while also maximizing wilderness while the opportunity still
remains (Pouzols et al. 2014).
The urgency to identify and protectareas remains high across allregions of Canada, yet the rationale and
the available mechanisms for protection will differ depending on the region. In the south, protected area
conservation and ecological restoration are needed to protect species most at risk from human activities
and to improve connectivity among isolated habitat patches. Although adding protected areas to loca-
tions with greatest numbers of species at risk should be a priority, additional measures are needed to
incentivize protection on private lands, such as through conservation agreements, easements, or tax
incentives. For example, a tax-shifting strategy rewards protection of biodiversity features on private
lands by off-setting property taxes to lands without protection. Tax shifting could limit ongoing and
future threats to species at risk in regions with limited non-private land (Schuster et al. 2017).
By contrast, in the north, we have the greatest opportunities for protecting areas that have experienced
lower development and human impact pressure (Venter et al. 2016). The north includes the extensive
Canadian boreal (Brandt 2009), which experiences a dynamic fire (natural disturbance) cycle (Davies
et al. 2013). Protected areas must be large enough to encompass disturbance regimes while maintain-
ing metapopulation dynamics. For instance, the necessary reserve area to encompass dynamic
processes in northern Canada is estimated at 5000 km
, but requirements may be much higher
(for details see Leroux et al. 2007), under the expectation that climate change will drive increased
intensity and frequency of fires in northern Canada (Kasischke and Turetsky 2006;Davies et al.
2013;de Groot et al. 2013).
Contributing to global efforts: identifying key biodiversity areas
Canada, in deciding which areas to protect, should also seek to contribute to international efforts to
preserve biodiversity. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has established
criteria to identify globally significant areas for biodiversity protection (IUCN 2016;andsee
Supplement S2). These locations have not yet been fully identified but play a key role for the persist-
ence of a specific species or ecosystem (e.g., holding at least 20% of the global population of a species
or being one of a limited number of areas (2) representing an ecoregion). These exceptional areas for
biodiversity on a global scale are known as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). The thresholds used to
trigger a KBA listing, although more stringent in requiring global biodiversity importance, are consis-
tent with the ecological principles listed above. A national approach could build upon global KBAs by
expanding the standards to include species and ecosystems of significance in Canada.
By highlighting regions of outstanding biological significance, KBAs can focus attention on regions
deserving of protection, instill public pride in protecting a globally important resource, and support
the development of conservation economies (e.g., ecotourism). To align with global efforts for biodi-
versity protection, Canada should contribute to global KBA protection, setting aside KBAs that pro-
tect species that only Canada can save (e.g., musk ox, Vancouver Island marmot, among others; see
Appendix C of Cannings et al. 2005) and ecoregions that only Canada has (e.g., areas within the
Northwest Territories Taiga, including the currently unprotected Mackenzie Delta).
Not just area, effective management
Area alone is not sufficient for achieving Aichi Target 11. Under each governance category, the extent
to which protected areas contribute towards Aichi Target 11 varies significantly. Each type of pro-
tected area may allow different human uses and activities according to its IUCN management catego-
ries (see Dudley 2008), thereby influencing the type and quality of contribution towards reduction in
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biodiversity loss. Further, area-based conservation decisions must be economically feasible as well as
socially and politically acceptable. The effective management of protected areas also requires such fac-
tors as adequate financing, capacity, enforcement, outreach, and adaptive management (Hockings et
al. 2006;Watson et al. 2014). Changes in governance can also weaken protection, altering priorities
for protection. For example, the community pastures of Saskatchewan are included as a current pro-
tected area (here and in CCEA 2016), despite plans to shift management of these areas to local produc-
ers. This recent change would strongly alter the relative priority of grassland protection in these areas.
Protected areas, in and of themselves, are key approaches to ensure biodiversity persistence in to the
future. Adequate planning, regulation, and management of land-use activities outside of protected areas
are also necessary to foster effective biodiversity conservation (for discussion on these points, see
Polasky et al. 2005;Wood et al. 2014). Long-term planning can be used to forecast acceptable levels of
development that are consistent with biodiversity targets (e.g., regarding species diversity and abun-
dance), taking into account cumulative effects of all human activities on species and ecosystems at risk.
Data availability and uncertainty
Insufficient data can limit the ability of science to inform conservation decisions. Biodiversity data are
notoriously incomplete: distributions, relative abundance, population structure, and species inter-
actions are almost never known for all species in an ecosystem. In particular, recorded data on biodi-
versity is extremely sparse in northern Canada (Fig. S3). Furthermore, although temporal data sets
are critical for generating baseline information and assessing rates of change, such data sets are often
incomplete (e.g., due to gaps in funding, shifts in monitoring platforms, etc.) or simply not available
(Table 1). Although there is a greater certainty for trends in threats to biodiversity, failure to account
for all risks compounds data uncertainty. For instance, there is a tendency for protected area analyses
to discount speciesand populationspoleward movement as climates change thereby generating esti-
mates of optimal protected area locations that become increasingly inaccurate as climate change pro-
gresses. Representativeness in particular assumes species, population, communities, and ecosystems
will remain spatially static over long time frames. The development of novel statistical and technologi-
cal techniques (e.g., near-real-time biodiversity indicators through remote sensing) represents prom-
ising approaches to address incomplete data (Ovaskainen and Soininen 2011;Deblauwe et al. 2016;
Santini et al. 2016;Bush et al. 2017). Increased data availability would also increase the accuracy of
efforts to prioritize areas for protection. However, making decisions with incomplete data is preferable
to delaying decision-making and can reduce overall biodiversity decline (Martin et al. 2017).
Another major data gap concerns identifying priority regions for ensuring connectivity. As Canada-
wide data on home ranges and dispersal routes is currently lacking for many species, we measured
importance to connectivity based on an areas proximity to waterways and on existing connectivity
initiatives under the assumption that these initiatives were motivated to identify and protect locations
that promote migratory routes and dispersal (see Brown and Harris 2005;Badiou et al. 2013). A more
direct metric would collate the movement data and measure functional connectivity needs for a broad
array of species across Canada, including plants.
Climate change is a significant driver of current and future biodiversity decline (Urban 2015;
Coristine and Kerr 2015). Although our fifth principle selects regions that are predicted to be rela-
tively stable in the face of future climate change (Principle 5), this could be augmented through data
on pinch-points: areas that are predicted to provide limiting habitat or climate at some point in
the future as species move from where they live today to where they are predicted to live under chang-
ing climatic conditions. More research is needed to identify and increase certainty around estimates of
future climatic connectivity in Canada (for a US example see McGuire et al. 2016). Including climate
connectivity in our analyses would build upon efforts to map future ecosystem distributions (e.g., in
British Columbia: Wang et al. 2012).
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Although we outlined a way to identify candidate areas for protection in Canada based on five key
conservation principles, these principles are not mutually exclusive of other considerations nor do
they represent an absolute prioritization. For instance, we did not explicitly consider biodiversity rich-
ness, although the principle of protecting species at risk accounts for the local richness of such species
(Fig. 2). We did not include richness because native species richness is not well mapped across
Canada and because it is affected by invasive species and habitat fragmentation in ways that
complicate the assessment of protected area value for biodiversity (Dornelas et al. 2014;seeTable 1
and Fig. S3).
Spatial analyses and maps provide an important set of tools to make and evaluate decisions about con-
servation and can enhance current protected area selection by highlighting key gaps (i.e., species at
risk, governance; see Fig. 2,Table 2) and identifying priorities for action (Fig. 5). Ultimately, deci-
sions on site selection for protected areas should have an objective foundation in ecological criteria
prior to balancing a suite of trade-offs and conflicting priorities arising from social, economic, politi-
cal, cultural, and land-use legacies (Fig. 4). To achieve the stated Aichi Target 11 goals of reducing
biodiversity loss and preserving biodiversity into the future, environmental science principles should
be used to identify areas with the greatest potential to make a difference.
Based on five key principles, we identified regions with potential to both reduce biodiversity loss and
preserve biodiversity into the future (Fig. 5). In particular, species within highly urbanized and devel-
oped portions of Canada are disproportionately threatened; we recommend that protected areas
should be designed and prioritized relative to the land-use legacy within the region (Fig. 5(b)). We
also identified locations that are low priority (viz. with low species at risk, high representativity,
degraded ecosystems, and low connectivity potential), which would not substantially contribute to
reducing the rate of biodiversity loss; Canada should avoid protecting such areas without providing
a scientifically grounded justification. Biodiversity priorities are based on a number of factors and
all levels of government should be transparent and explicit about using biodiversity priorities in sys-
tematic conservation planning. This spatially explicit mapping of key principles for biodiversity con-
servation is a step toward identifying protected areas based on ecological principles and evidence as
Canada strives to achieve Target 1.
Discussions with J. Hilty and H. Locke were invaluable to the development of this research. Two
anonymous reviewers provided feedback that greatly improved this manuscript. This project would
nothavebeenpossiblewithouttheunderlyingspatial data, made available through: Environment
and Climate Change Canada, NatureServe, Global Forest Watch, Canadian Council on Ecological
AreasConservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System, Natural Resources Canada, Canadian
Soil Information ServiceNational Ecological Framework, Socioeconomic Data and Applications
Center. We thank S. McKee for contributing to species at risk data that informed Fig. 2.Wethank
Erle Ellis for sharing data on areas of wildlands by country. LC dedicates her efforts on this manu-
script to Robin, Julian, and Kaitlynanimal rescuers and outdoor adventurers. This project was made
possible through generous funding from the Liber Ero Fellowship Program.
Author contributions
LEC, ALJ, RS, and SPO conceived and designed the study. LEC and RS performed the experiments/
collected the data. LEC analyzed and interpreted the data. LEC, ALJ, RS, SPO, NEB, NJB, SJB, CD,
NJB, SJB, CD, BF, AF, LN, DO, WJP, JLP, DSS, OV, and SW drafted or revised the manuscript.
Coristine et al.
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Competing interests
BF is currently serving as a Subject Editor for FACETS, but was not involved in review or editorial
decisions regarding this manuscript.
Data accessibility statement
All relevant data are within the paper, the Supplementary Material, and the underlying spatial data are
available through Environment and Climate Change Canada, NatureServe, Global Forest Watch,
Canadian Council on Ecological AreasConservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System,
Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Soil Information ServiceNational Ecological Framework,
and the Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (refer to the references section for details).
Supplementary Materials
The following Supplementary Material is available with the article through the journal website at
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... Given global goals and national commitments to restoration, systematic conservation planning tools can provide decision-makers with the necessary information to strategically prioritize areas for restoration that would provide maximum biodiversity and carbon storage benefits. In contrast to prioritization analyses for protected areas (Coristine et al., 2019;WWF-Canada, 2022), an evidence-based framework to guide restoration has yet to be adopted for Canada-though some exist at local levels (PC, 2008;TRCA, 2015) and have been proposed for specific ecosystems (Mansuy et al., 2020). ...
... While many other "biodiversity layers" depict similar spatial patterns in Canada, they are often limited to vertebrates (e.g., WWF-Canada, 2022) and/or species at risk (e.g., Coristine et al., 2019). The modified STAR R product developed here also incorporates plants and animals, including those assessed as Least Concern, to reflect biodiversity more broadly. ...
... Nonetheless, the STAR R metric assigns greater weight to threatened species, as well as endemics and those with small Canadian distributions among the species included. Consequently, STAR R hotspots are particularly prevalent in the Prairies and Mixedwood Plains-areas delineated by intensive land-use from agriculture and development that are consequently occupied by numerous species at risk (Coristine et al., 2019;Coristine & Kerr, 2011). These spatial patterns are particularly evident for birds (eBird Canada, 2018) and other species occupying the northern periphery of their range (Gibson et al., 2009;Lesbarrères et al., 2014). ...
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Ecosystem restoration is a fundamental way of delivering nature-based solutions to improve resilience in a changing climate and sustain biodiversity. Spatial analyses to identify where ecosystem restoration would yield targeted environmental benefits are critical to inform, and coordinate restoration initiatives at multiple scales to achieve national commitments and global goals. Here, we provide an optimization analysis for restoration potential of converted terrestrial ecosystems in Canada by integrating carbon storage and biodiversity benefits as key considerations. Our results show that converted landscapes are prevalent in southern anthropic regions of Canada, with the greatest potential for biodiversity benefits through forest and grassland restoration. At national scales, carbon density (tonnes C/km2) and total carbon storage (tonnes C) potential were greatest for wetland and forest restoration, respectively. When biodiversity and carbon were both included in an optimization framework, consistent priorities across all three restoration targets (50,000; 100,000; and 150,000 km2) comprised forest restoration in the St. Lawrence and Lake Erie Lowlands, with the Lake Manitoba Plains, Interlake Plains, and Manitoulin-Lake Simcoe ecoregions also frequently identified. Our analysis will help decision-makers identify where restoration of converted lands may support considerable gains in simultaneously achieving climate and biodiversity goals in Canada.
... The precise boundaries between different ecoregions and ecodistricts are poorly defined but generally correspond to significant changes in topography, hydrology, geology, vegetation, wildlife, and/or climate. Ecoregions are the typical measurement "unit" to assess ecological representation for area-based conservation efforts, as recently demonstrated in Canada (Coristine and Jacob, 2018;Kraus and Hebb 2020) and globally (Dinerstein and Olson 2017). Herein we used the National Ecological Framework for Canada dataset published by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (Marshall et al., 1996), which contains 194 and 1,021 ecoregions ( Figure 5A) and ecodistricts ( Figure 5B), respectively. ...
... In Canada, species at risk (SAR) are legally protected against intentional harming or killing on federal lands, and in some cases, on additional public and private lands (Turcotte and Kermany, 2021). Protecting SAR through expansions of the protected area network represents an important component of plans for halting and reversing the trend of declining biodiversity in Canada (Coristine and Jacob 2018;Turcotte and Kermany, 2021). Herein we used the estimated range extents of 488 SAR published by Environment and Climate Change Canada (, which were originally sourced from data provided by NatureServe, Environment Canada, and Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) reports. ...
... Most ecoregions in Canada are classified as poorly protected relative to the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (i.e., conserving 30% of land by 2030) and several ecoregions remain unprotected ( Figure 5A). These poorly protected and unprotected ecoregions and ecodistricts ( Figure 5B) are considered to be higher priority for new or expansions of the protected area network (Coristine and Jacob, 2018) and occur in western Labrador, southern Ontario, Yukon, and Nunavut ( Figure 5A). The few ecoregions that exceed the national conservation targets mostly occur in British Columbia and Northern Canada ( Figure 5A), where protected areas tend to be larger and better connected ( Figure 4A). ...
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Electrification of Canada’s energy and transport sectors is essential to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and will require a vast amount of raw materials. A large proportion of these critical raw materials are expected to be sourced from as yet undiscovered mineral deposits, which has the potential to accelerate environmental pressures on natural ecosystems. Herein we overlay new prospectivity model results for a major source of Canada’s battery minerals (i.e., magmatic Ni ± Cu ± Co ± PGE mineral systems) with five ecosystem services (i.e., freshwater resources, carbon, nature-based recreation, species at risk, climate-change refugia) and gaps in the current protected-area network to identify areas of high geological potential with lower ecological risk. New prospectivity models were trained on high-resolution geological and geophysical survey compilations using spatial cross-validation methods. The area under the curve for the receive operating characteristics (ROC) plot and the preferred gradient boosting machines model is 0.972, reducing the search space for more than 90% of deposits in the test set by 89%. Using the inflection point on the ROC plot as a threshold, we demonstrate that 16% of the most prospective model cells partially overlap with the current network of protected and other conserved areas, further reducing the search space for new critical mineral deposits. The vast majority of the remaining high prospectivity cells correspond to ecoregions with less than half of the protected areas required to meet national conservation targets. Poorly protected ecoregions with one or more of the five ecosystem services are interpreted as hotspots with the highest potential for conflicting land-use priorities in the future, including parts of southern Ontario and Québec, western Labrador, and northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Managing hotspots with multiple land-use priorities would necessarily involve partnerships with both Indigenous peoples whose traditional lands are affected, and other impacted communities. We suggest that prospectivity models and other machine learning methods can be used as part of natural resources management strategies to balance critical mineral development with conservation and biodiversity values.
... While several authors have focused on the socio-economic cost to protecting boreal caribou habitat 31,32 , few have investigated the potential co-benefits to biodiversity or efforts to address climate change 10,25 . Integrating the protection of large tracts of habitat for boreal caribou into the expansion of Canada's protected and conserved areas network to 30% by 2030 19 could help ensure the functioning of ecological processes across the Canadian boreal forest, including those related to evolutionary adaptation 10,24 . ...
... While several authors have focused on the socio-economic cost to protecting boreal caribou habitat 31,32 , few have investigated the potential co-benefits to biodiversity or efforts to address climate change 10,25 . Integrating the protection of large tracts of habitat for boreal caribou into the expansion of Canada's protected and conserved areas network to 30% by 2030 19 could help ensure the functioning of ecological processes across the Canadian boreal forest, including those related to evolutionary adaptation 10,24 . While the boreal forest is neither the most diverse biome nor the biome most affected by climate change in Canada, it has significant conservation value 10,25 . ...
... Integrating the protection of large tracts of habitat for boreal caribou into the expansion of Canada's protected and conserved areas network to 30% by 2030 19 could help ensure the functioning of ecological processes across the Canadian boreal forest, including those related to evolutionary adaptation 10,24 . While the boreal forest is neither the most diverse biome nor the biome most affected by climate change in Canada, it has significant conservation value 10,25 . Protection of large tracts of undisturbed habitat for boreal caribou could benefit large populations of songbirds and other species including those at risk 24,25,32 . ...
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Boreal caribou require large areas of undisturbed habitat for persistence. They are listed as threatened with the risk of extinction in Canada because of landscape changes induced by human activities and resource extraction. Here we ask: Can the protection of habitat for boreal caribou help Canada meet its commitments under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change? We identified hotspots of high conservation value within the distribution of boreal caribou based on: (1) three measures of biodiversity for at risk species (species richness, unique species and taxonomic diversity); (2) climate refugia or areas forecasted to remain unchanged under climate change; and, (3) areas of high soil carbon that could add to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions if released into the atmosphere. We evaluated the overlap among hotspot types and how well hotspots were represented in Canada’s protected and conserved areas network. While hotspots are widely distributed across the boreal caribou distribution, with nearly 80% of the area falling within at least one hotspot type, only 3% of the distribution overlaps three or more hotspots. Moreover, the protected and conserved areas network only captures about 10% of all hotspots within the boreal caribou distribution. While the protected and conserved areas network adequately represents hotspots with high numbers of at risk species, areas occupied by unique species, as well as the full spectrum of areas occupied by different taxa, are underrepresented. Climate refugia and soil carbon hotspots also occur at lower percentages than expected. These findings illustrate the potential co-benefits of habitat protection for caribou to biodiversity and ecosystem services and suggest caribou may be a good proxy for future protected areas planning and for developing effective conservation strategies in regional assessments.
... With one of the largest landmasses and a disproportionate coverage of intact ecosystems, Canada can make a significant contribution to biodiversity commitments (Coristine et al. 2018), as remaining intact areas play an increasingly important role against the effects of climate change and human-made landscape degradation (Watson et al. 2018). In Canada, the potential of Indigenous conservation is particularly important in the North, where state-recognized Indigenous lands overlap largely with intact forest and intact ecological areas, as described in Artelle et al. (2019). ...
... In the early 1900s, the Banff Indian Days provided an opportunity for local Indigenous Peoples to reassert their physical and cultural links with the region and thus their identity (Masson 2015). stewardship for conservation in Canadian policy(Coristine et al. 2018; Convention on Biological Diversity 2020b). ...
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Wilderness and national parks play a fundamental role in defining Canadian identity, yet Indigenous Peoples have historically been excluded from conservation decisions, resulting in systematic dispossession and oppression. In this article, we collaborate with Dene Tha'First Nation to discuss the recent paradigm shift towards Indigenous-led conservation and propose guiding principles to advance and assert the critical role of Indigenous Peoples in conservation. We begin with a brief history of Indigenous Peoples in conservation, followed by the concept of Indigenous protected and conserved areas (IPCAs). Our analyses show that IPCAs have gained momentum recently, driven by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Canada's commitment to global conservation goals. With one of the largest landmasses and Indigenous populations in the world, IPCAs in Canada have the potential to make immense contributions to environmental and cultural conservation rooted in an intrinsic relationship to the land. Despite this biocultural diversity, as of 2022, less than 1% of Canada's landmass is declared as Indigenous-led protected areas. However, more than 50 Indigenous communities across the country have currently received funding to establish IPCAs or to undertake early planning and engagement that could position Canada as a global leader in Indigenous-led conservation. As the Government of Canada aims to designate 25% of the territory as protected space by 2025 and 30% by 2030, embedding Indigenous rights, knowledge, and values in the national conservation strategy will be essential to simultaneously honoring the commitments to reconciliation and meeting the ambitious targets stipulated in the Kunming–Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.
... However, the geographical overlap between nationally and globally at-risk species has not been quantified. Further, while we know that Canada's nationally at-risk taxa cluster in southern Canada [18,25], it is unclear whether this is driven by species-rich taxonomic groups (e.g. plants, which cluster south [8]), and how well overall hotspots of at-risk species would reflect hotspots of less species-rich groups (e.g. ...
... We identify where species-at-risk are concentrated in Canada, and ask (Q1): how well do hotspots overlap among taxonomic groups, and between nationally and globally at-risk species? We expected most hotspots of nationally at-risk species to be in southern Canada, where Canada's biodiversity, human population and land conversion all cluster [25,27], but did not have specific predictions for Q1, given the differing distributions of nationally at-risk plants versus mammals [8,11] and general sense that Canada's globally at-risk species are often in the far north. (ii) Peripherality. ...
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Protecting habitat of species at risk is critical to their recovery, but can be contentious. For example, protecting species that are locally imperilled but globally common is often thought to distract from protecting globally imperilled species. However, such perceived trade-offs are based on the assumption that threatened groups have little spatial overlap, which is rarely quantified. We compiled range maps of terrestrial species at risk in Canada to assess the geographic overlap of nationally and globally at-risk species with each other, among taxonomic groups, and with protected areas. While many nationally at-risk taxa only occur in Canada at their northern range edge, they are not significantly more peripheral in Canada than globally at-risk species. Further, 56% of hotspots of nationally at-risk taxa are also hotspots of globally at-risk species, undercutting the perceived trade-off in their protection. While strong spatial overlap across threat levels and taxa should facilitate efficient habitat protection, less than 7% of the area in Canada's at-risk hotspots is protected, and two-thirds of nationally and globally at-risk species in Canada have less than 10% of their Canadian range protected. Our results counter the perception that protecting nationally versus globally at-risk species are at odds, and identify critical areas to target as Canada strives to increase its protected areas and promote recovery of species at risk.
... This information is generally lacking for bumble bees (but see, Martinet et al., 2021) and future research to address these knowledge gaps would greatly improve the accuracy of bumble bee climate models and conservation effectiveness. Similar to findings in previous work with other species (e.g., Coristine et al., 2018), most bumble bee occurrences are biased to southern Canada and there are a fewer surveys the Far North and in Western Canada, and an overall lack of absence data. This limits our ability to accurately assess suitable habitat for these species as habitat suitability models often perform poorly with low sample sizes and if large portions of a species' range are not sampled (Phillips et al., 2009). ...
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Abstract Many bumble bee species are declining globally from multiple threats including climate change. Identifying conservation priority areas with a changing climate will be important for conserving bumble bee species. Using systematic conservation planning, we identified priority areas for 44 bumble bee species in Canada under current and projected climates (year 2050). Conservation priority areas were identified as those that contained targeted amounts of each species predicted occurrence through climate envelope models, while minimizing the area cost of conserving the identified conservation priority areas. Conservation priority areas in the two periods were compared to established protected areas and land cover types to determine the area of current and future priority sites that are protected and the types of landscapes within priority areas. Notably, conservation priority areas were rarely within established protected areas. Priority areas were most often in croplands and grasslands, mainly within the mountain west, central and Southern Ontario, Northern Quebec, and Atlantic Canada under all climate scenarios. Conservation priority areas are predicted to increase in elevation and latitude with climate change. Our findings identify the most important regions in Canada for conserving bumble bee species under current and future climates including consistently selected future sites.
... Targeting existing policy and conservation tools (e.g., "Species at Risk Act" and "Migratory Birds Convention Act") through protecting and restoring urban green spaces is a promising strategy to contribute to human wellbeing, biodiversity conservation, and climate resilience. City-based approaches thus have high potential to provide these benefits to human communities while also addressing climate solutions and conservation issues [15]. ...
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Background There is global interest in finding innovative solutions that address current climate and societal challenges in an urban context. Cities are often on the front lines of environmental change, meaning urban greening strategies have high potential to provide benefits across human communities, while protecting global biodiversity. There is growing consensus that nature-based solutions can provide multiple benefits to people and nature while also mitigating the effects of climate change. Urban forest management is well-suited to a nature-based solutions framework due to the wide variety of services trees provide our communities. Effective approaches to urban forest management also have the potential to promote other forms of urban biodiversity, particularly birds and species at risk. However, studies that integrate strategies for both climate and biodiversity conservation are rare. The goal of this systematic map is to gather and describe information on two desired outcomes of urban forest management: (1) conserving avian diversity and species at risk (2) carbon storage and sequestration (i.e., nature-based climate solutions). Methods We will identify relevant articles from two separate searches for inclusion in our systematic map that address (1) urban forestry and avian and species at risk conservation and, (2) urban forestry and carbon storage and sequestration. We will search two bibliographic databases, consult 20 relevant organizational websites, and solicit grey literature through an open call for evidence. Eligibility screening will be conducted at two stages: (1) title and abstract and (2) full text. Relevant information from included papers will be extracted and entered in a searchable, coded database. Synthesis of evidence will describe the key characteristics of each study (e.g., geographic locations, interventions, outcomes, species studied) and identify knowledge gaps and clusters of evidence. Our systematic map will guide further research on opportunities for multiple benefits using nature-based solutions, particularly as they relate to urban forest management. Furthermore, our evidence base will support both management and funding decisions to ensure the effective use of resources for maximum benefits across people and ecosystems.
... Many of Canada's endemic hotspots have not been the focus of species conservation efforts. Canada's hotspots for nationally endemic species are very different than spatial concentrations of species listed under SARA, which are primarily found along the southern border (Coristine et al., 2018, Figure 2). Federal, provincial, and territorial Priority Places for the conservation of species at risk currently exclude most of the key sites for nationally endemic species (ECCC, 2018). ...
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Over 90% of recent human‐caused extinctions are wild species known from only one nation. These nationally endemic species represent one of the greatest global conservation responsibilities for any country. To meet this responsibility, we must first identify nationally endemic species. We developed the first comprehensive inventory of the 308 plant, animal, and fungi species and infraspecies only found in Canada, of which approximately 90% are of global conservation concern. Our analysis also identified 27 spatial concentrations of endemic species, many of which are associated with glacial refugia, islands, coasts, and unique habitats. Nationally endemic species have not been the primary focus of endangered species conservation in Canada and other countries. Our analysis provides a case study on how national inventories of endemic species can be developed and applied to support species assessments and place‐based conservation. Prioritizing endemic species for conservation can build on sentiments of sense of place and national responsibility to foster public interest. We propose a species conservation framework that highlights the critical role of national endemism in preventing global extinctions. Greater conservation focus on endemic species will support national and international biodiversity conservation targets, including the post‐2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Yukon Goldenweed (Nestotus macleanii) is endemic to Yukon Territory (photo: Bruce Bennett)
... There have been numerous IPCA announcements since 2018. Many of the newly established IPCAs are in Canada's north, where vast, unfragmented forest and tundra; land claim agreements; and prevailing Indigenous land use planning have provided favorable circumstances (Coristine et al 2018). In addition to the rural north, the interior of the province of British Columbia is also being targeted for IPCA development because of the amount of unceded Indigenous territory that exists outside of numbered treaty agreements. ...