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The Science of Reducing Biodiversity Loss with Protected Areas

protected areas designation through Target 1 and beyond. May 14, 2018. FACETS,

Authors: Laura E. Coristine, Aerin Jacob, Richard Schuster, Sarah P. Otto, Nancy Baron, Nathan J. Bennett,
Sarah Joy Bittick, Cody Dey, Brett Favaro, Adam T. Ford, Linda Nowlan, Diane Orihel, Wendy J. Palen, Jean
Polfus, David S. Shiffman, Oscar Venter, and Stephen Woodley

Opportunity and legal obligation to protect biodiversity

Informing Canada’s Commitment to Biodiversity Conservation: A science-based framework to guide

The Pathway to Canada Target 1: Canada’s wildlife and resources are a foundation of our cultural
and economic stature as a nation. As a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Canada has
a legal responsibility to protect 17% of its land and freshwater by 2020 to reduce biodiversity loss.
Currently, Canada has protected about 10% of its lands, leaving 650 000 km2, an area the size of
Alberta, to be protected in the next two years. Canada Target 1 will help us reach this goal.

To provide advice to the government to help reach Canada Target 1, we1,2 provide details on our
research for prioritizing areas with the greatest potential to reduce biodiversity loss and protect
biodiversity into the future. In conjunction with recent announcements on the Round Table on Parks
Canada, this research can help guide Canada in addressing the extinction crisis by basing protected area
decisions on a scientific understanding of extinction risk and contributing factors.

Ecological Quality of Protected Areas Matters: We integrate 5

scientific principles to guide the planning of protected areas:
1. Protect species-at-risk: The greatest loss of biodiversity tends
to occur in highly-developed southern portions of Canada; these are
places where new protected areas could make significant progress to
reverse current biodiversity decline.
2. Represent diverse ecosystems: Ecoregions contain
geographically distinct species, natural communities and
environmental conditions. Setting standards for the amount of
protected areas in each ecoregion can ensure persistence of
ecosystem services such as flood control or carbon storage, as well
as preserve diverse ecological communities.
3. Conserve intact wilderness: Due to low levels of protection,
wilderness areas often remain open to resource activities that
degrade wilderness integrity. Protecting large swaths of wilderness
will minimize human impacts and retain natural processes such as Figure 1. Existing protected areas like
fire regimes and long-distance migration. Banff National Park (above) suffer
from a lack of connectivity due to a
4. Ensure landscape connectivity: Connectivity provides legacy of nation-building transportation
important movement corridors for wildlife. Strategic protection of infrastructure. In the future, Canada’s
areas that provide connectivity despite anticipated impacts of land national parks need to be located in
use change can promote current and future population and species areas that better enhance their
resilience. resilience to increasing pressures on the
5. Preserve climate refugia: Not all areas in Canada will
experience the same rate of climate change – protected areas where the rate of change is low, or
refugia, will help buffer wildlife against the impacts of rapid change elsewhere in the country.

1 The Liber Ero Fellows are emerging conservation scientists and leaders working on research directly related to conservation and
management across Canada (see ).
2 Additional expertise provided by leading scholars in environmental law, decision-science, international biodiversity initiatives, and

science communication.
Recommendations for Canada Target 1 and beyond

protected areas designation through Target 1 and beyond. May 14, 2018. FACETS,
• Use ecological science as a selection criterion to identify hotspots where the greatest strides can be
made in reducing biodiversity loss and promoting biodiversity persistence for future generations.
• Develop a balanced portfolio of protected areas that differ in the extent to which they provide
proactive and reactive approaches to biodiversity conservation.

Informing Canada’s Commitment to Biodiversity Conservation: A science-based framework to guide

• Address social, cultural, and governance considerations after identifying candidate sites based on
the best available ecological science (Figure 2).
• Use a transparent evidence-based decision-making process that clearly demonstrates the
information used in selecting new protected areas and the trade-offs evaluated.

Protected Area Index

(a) Equal weight (b) Species at Risk have - High: 100
greater weight - Low: 0

Protected Areas

Figure 2: Demonstration of candidate protected areas based on 5 ecological principles considered
relative to historic land-use patterns of urbanization, resource extraction, and wilderness. Panel (a)
represents an equal weighting of all five principles. By contrast, panel (b) places greater weight on
‘Species at Risk’, shifting the priority areas for protected area status to southern Canada (hotter colours
have higher priority). Our online tool (
tool) allows users to define their own weightings of these five principles to help identify priority areas
required to reach Canada Target 1.


Laura Coristine, PhD

Liber Ero Postdoctoral Fellow
University of British Columbia, Okanagan campus
(819) 593-5716
Online resources:
Link to paper: