Using science to identify hotspots for protected areas in Canada

An extinction crisis is affecting wildlife around the globe. In response, internationally, countries have agreed to increase the amounts of land set aside as protected areas (under the Convention on Biological Diversity 2020). By protecting 17% of land and inland freshwater areas within Canada by the year 2020 — Target 1 of the 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada — we can build on Canada’s reputation for wild places and wild species. For such large-scale protection to be most effective, plans to conserve areas must be informed by the best available ecological evidence. We identify key ecological principles and propose a framework for applying these principles to prioritize areas to conserve biodiversity.

The five key principles to guide conservation planning are: (1) protecting species at risk, (2) representing each of Canada’s diverse ecosystems, (3) conserving intact natural landscapes (along with natural processes and ecosystem services), (4) ensuring that species can move between natural habitats, and (5) preserving landscapes that are more resilient to climate change. These principles form the foundation of our protection framework, yet they differ in the extent to which they focus on conserving intact areas (proactive approaches) versus managing habitats that are already imperiled (reactive approaches). A mix of complementary approaches based on the key principles will help ensure that Canada moves forward to protect both the most vulnerable and the most intact biological communities.

Canada has a global reputation as a country rich and diverse in natural beauty, wildlife, and resources. Successfully conserving Canada’s biodiversity requires (1) integration of these five key principles with social, cultural, economic, and governance considerations and (2) conservation efforts in unprotected areas. The principles and framework in our study can help identify opportunities and inform decision-making that protect Canada’s rich natural heritage both now and into the future.


Read the full paper — Informing Canada’s commitment to biodiversity conservation: A science-based framework to help guide protected areas designation through Target 1 and beyond by 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 on the FACETS website.