Threats to biodiversity from cumulative human impacts in one of North America's last wildlife frontiers

TitleThreats to biodiversity from cumulative human impacts in one of North America's last wildlife frontiers
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsShackelford N, Standish R.J., Ripple W.J., Starzomski B.M.
JournalConservation Biology

Land‐use change is the largest proximate threat to biodiversity yet remains one of the most complex to manage. In British Columbia (BC), where large mammals roam extensive tracts of intact habitat, continued land‐use development is of global concern. Extant mammal diversity in BC is unrivalled in North America owing, in part, to its unique position at the intersection of alpine, boreal, and temperate biomes. Despite high conservation values, understanding of cumulative ecological impacts from human development is limited. Using cumulative‐effects‐assessment (CEA) methods, we assessed the current human footprint over 16 regional ecosystems and 7 large mammal species. Using historical and current range estimates of the mammals, we investigated impacts of human land use on species’ persistence. For ecosystems, we found that bunchgrass, coastal Douglas fir, and ponderosa pine have been subjected to over 50% land‐use conversion, and over 85% of their spatial extent has undergone either direct or estimated indirect impacts. Of the mammals we considered, wolves were the least affected by land conversion, yet all species had reduced ranges compared with historical estimates. We found evidence of a hard trade‐off between development and conservation, most clearly for mammals with large distributions and ecosystems with high levels of conversion. Rather than serve as a platform to monitor species decline, we strongly advocate these data be used to inform land‐use planning and to assess current conservation efforts. More generally, CEAs offer a robust tool to inform wildlife and habitat conservation at scale.

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