New connectivity indices for protected areas in Canada

The freshwater connectivity status of Canadian protected areas

In 2017, federal, provincial, and territorial Ministers responsible for parks, protected areas and biodiversity conservation launched the Pathway to Canada Target 1, a national initiative designed to coordinate efforts to conserve 17% of Canada’s terrestrial and inland water areas by 2020 through networks of protected and conservation areas.

In support of this initiative, Confluvio defined indicators for measuring structural freshwater connectivity from the perspective of protected areas (PAs) that can be used consistently throughout Canada and potentially globally. Between December 2019 and March 2021, we engaged with the Pathway team, the Connectivity Working Group, as well as with individuals from Parks Canada during workshops, webinars, and individual discussions to receive input and feedback for the development of the indicators.

The resulting freshwater indicators are grounded in the methodology published by Grill and others (2019) which has been adapted to be applied for protected areas in Canada. We developed two sets of complementary indicators, for measuring the freshwater connectivity status of protected areas from different perspectives:

1) The ‘Integrated Protection Index’ (IPI) quantifies to what extent the local and upstream area of any given location along a river is protected, thereby focusing on established protected areas and how well they are placed in the landscape to protect freshwater systems.

2) The ‘Connectivity Status Index (CSI)’, as the proposed principal indicator, measures the freshwater status from the perspective of fluvial connectivity (or the loss thereof) and as such focuses on human pressures and their effects on river systems in PAs and beyond.

Connectivity Status Index (CSI) and Integrated Protection Index (IPI) applied to protected areas in Canada.

The two indices were developed as they provide distinct yet complementary insights into the river connectivity within protected areas. Any user of these indices may choose the appropriate index or variant depending on specific goals, the aquatic ecological situation, environmental characteristics of the investigated region, or geographic scale.

The report, data and source code is available upon request.