Conservation prioritization of natural habitats in the St. Lawrence Lowlands based on their importance for ecological connectivity

Financed by: Direction générale de la conservation de la biodiversité, Ministère de l'Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques

Written by: Bronwyn Rayfield, Guillaume Larocque, Colin Daniel, Andrew Gonzalez

 

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Summary

To ensure the sustainability of biodiversity and ecosystem services in fragmented landscapes, current conservation plans increasingly focus on protecting connected habitat networks. Habitat connectivity assessments quantify the extent to which a habitat network is connected, based on the spatial arrangement of habitat patches and dispersal corridors, in relation to the dispersal capacities of the species that use these networks. In the St. Lawrence Lowlands, natural areas have largely been converted to agricultural and urban areas resulting in many small patches that now make up just 30% of the Lowlands. We identified conservation priorities among the remaining natural areas in the Lowlands based on the habitat quality and connectivity of a set of focal species: northern short-tailed shrew, American marten, red-backed salamander, wood frog, and black bear. We have identified five main conclusions:

  1. Terrestrial natural areas represent 30% of the Lowlands spread over patches of different sizes. Both small and large patches are important for the quality of habitat and ecological connectivity of the region.
  2. Among these patches, some large patches located between Trois-Rivières and Quebec City were identified as high priorities. Smaller patches, in the Montérégie and around LakeSaint-Pierre, are also of high priority.
  3. High priority conservation corridors were identified along the south shore of Lake Saint-Pierre, from Lake Saint-Pierre to Mont Saint-Hilaire (southeast), and from Lake Saint-Pierre to the forested areas between Trois-Rivières and Quebec City (northwest).
  4. Species' sensitivity to habitat loss varies, but all species will see their habitat quality and connectivity decrease in the scenario of continued loss of natural areas.
  5. The value of the high priority patches and linkages identified in these analyses is not independent of the surrounding landscape and any degradation of the surrounding landscape may decrease the value of these high priority areas.

The conservation priority maps presented in this report are intended to guide integrated landscape management decisions whereby the interconnectedness of habitat fragments and the surrounding landscape is factored into decision-making. Our results demonstrate the merit of a joint analysis of the quality and connectivity of natural areas.

 

Mont Yamaska 2007, Photo: Tingxian Li (Ministère de l'Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques)