Science Advisory Report 2017/019
Framework for Identification of Ecological Conservation Priorities for Marine Protected Area Network Design and its Application in the Northern Shelf Bioregion
- Conservation Priorities (CPs) are the features to be prioritized in Marine Protected Area (MPA) network planning, and can be ecological (e.g., Ecologically Significant Species, species groups, habitats, or areas) cultural (e.g., species or sites of cultural significance), or related to tourism and recreation.
- CPs will inform the development and design of a MPA network in the Northern Shelf Bioregion (NSB). This framework focuses exclusively on ecological CPs that support the achievement of Goal 1 of 6 from the Canada – BC Marine Protected Network Strategy (2014): “to protect and maintain marine biodiversity, ecological representation and special natural features”.
- This framework provides criteria and scoring outputs for identifying ecological CPs nested under the network objectives associated with Goal 1. Criteria were based on global best practices, applied and evaluated using information from literature, then vetted and augmented by expert opinion.
- Framework criteria were applied to species and areas to identify species-based and area-based ecological CPs. Species-based ecological CPs were identified based on the characteristics of individual species or higher-level taxa; selecting those that are ecologically important, vulnerable, or of conservation concern. Area-based ecological CPs include areas, spatial features, or habitats that directly support the network objectives under Goal 1.
- Species that were identified as of conservation concern and/or received high scores for either vulnerability or ecological significance were recommended as ecological CPs. The list of species includes 65 fishes and elasmobranchs, 23 marine mammals (including four Orca ecotypes), sea turtle, 48 invertebrates, five plants and algae, and 55 marine bird species to be considered as ecological CPs for the NSB.
- Areas and habitats including areas of climate resilience, degraded areas, representative habitats, and Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs; e.g., areas of high productivity or diversity) were recommended as ecological CPs. A total of 17 area-based ecological CPs were recommended
- Several types of spatial features were recommended, including Important Areas (IAs) to represent species-based ecological CPs in site selection analyses for the MPA network. In some cases, IAs for species-based ecological CPs will mirror or duplicate priorities identified in the area-based ecological CPs. These areas would not need to be included multiple times during site selection, but rather will be highlighted as areas that meet multiple network objectives and may have broad ecological importance.
- To assist in the inclusion of spatial features in MPA network planning, development of accessible and comprehensive spatial databases is recommended as a next step to continue fostering collaboration among DFO programs, other agencies and organizations including governments, First Nations, and stakeholders engaged in marine spatial planning to avoid duplication of efforts and ensure efficiencies.
- While all areas and species have some level of ecological importance, conservation planning is based on the assumption that the ecological CPs identified with this framework will act as biological surrogates. Protecting known features of high conservation value is assumed to also protect unmapped biodiversity and important features. For example, protecting biogenic habitats such as kelp and eelgrass beds will also protect the range of species and communities that are associated with those habitats.
- A review of ecological CPs is recommended for future work prior to the design strategies phase; to determine which ecological CPs are amenable to spatial protection measures within the NSB.
- It was not possible to evaluate all criteria for all candidate species, in some cases due to a paucity of information or data. In particular, there was a lack of vulnerability data for invertebrate species in available literature and the selected criterion was not applicable to birds. Further review by subject matter experts was used to augment the available data from literature. The inclusion of expert evaluation of scoring outputs is an important step to ensure scores are both accurate and appropriate.
- It is recommended that the scores used to assess species under each ecological conservation priority criterion NOT be used for ranking. Scores are additive and will be higher for species that have more data and meet multiple criteria. Comparing species’ additive scores across criteria is inappropriate because some of the criteria are correlated.
- It is recommended that future iterations or applications of this framework:
- incorporate expert input at an early stage to develop criteria that apply generally across groups, classes, or phyla (e.g., invertebrates, fishes, marine birds, marine mammals); and provide expert pre-review of criteria evaluations to ensure applicability to all species and taxa;
- consider the context of the objectives in each MPA network area for the development of appropriate criteria; and,
- develop or improve criteria assessment tools and metrics as new information becomes relevant.
- This framework is a scientifically defensible, transparent, and repeatable method to identify ecological CPs that meet the MPA network objectives. This evaluation framework can be used to assess additional species, and be adapted to other planning areas. The list of ecological CPs is expected to inform data collection for future steps in the MPA network planning process.
- Ecological CPs identified from this framework will inform subsequent MPA planning steps, including the development of design strategies and design scenarios. Design strategies will guide how the ecological CPs will be incorporated into the network and will consider data availability and whether species identified as ecological CPs are amenable to spatial management measures.
This Science Advisory Report is from the November 22–24, 2016 meeting on the Framework for identifying ecological conservation priorities for marine protected area (MPA) network design in the Northern Shelf Bioregion. Additional publications from this meeting will be posted on the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) Science Advisory Schedule as they become available.
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