“Every year, ABMI scientists create new products that couldn’t have been done without ABMI data. Recently, we created models that show how individual species respond to different human footprints. Looking at that information, I think, ‘Wow! That’s a really neat product that wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have the ABMI’. And, ‘Yeah, I can see lots of people using this thing—it’ll change how management is done in this province’.”
-- Dr. Jim Schieck, Co-Director, ABMI Science Centre
The ABMI Science Centre manages and maintains excellence for all scientific and technical aspects of the ABMI. As the ABMI has matured as an organization, its scientists have shifted their focus from protocol development in the early days to data interpretation and product innovation. And, the future...ABMI scientists and their collaborators are dedicated to working at the frontier of the science of biodiversity monitoring.
The Early Days
In the late ‘90s, the idea for the ABMI was hatched. The reality of growing demand for Alberta’s resources from forest products to oil and gas, and its associated population growth, resulted in an Alberta landscape in transformation. The Albertan's wished to evaluate how increased land use was affecting Alberta’s species and ecosystems. The question facing the ABMI’s founding scientists was, “Rather than look at impacts on a few select species and their habitats in a particular area, how can we evaluate the combined effect of various human activities on Alberta’s natural environments more broadly?”
In other words, they asked themselves, what does a regional cumulative effects biodiversity monitoring program need to look like? Their goal: design a rigorous system effective at provincial and regional scales that can detect and track changes in Alberta’s ecosystems if and when changes occur.
To that end, during the ABMI’s planning and development phase [see ABMI history], ABMI scientists considered what would be essential to monitor and how. Of course species would have to be monitored, but which ones of the tens of thousands that call Alberta home? They developed protocols to monitor those taxa (singular taxon: any unit used in the science of biological classification) that effectively reflect the health of the environment, as well changes to it. They also created protocols to measure the amount and extent of the multitude of habitats—or vegetation types—throughout the province as a proxy to capture information on taxa not directly monitored by the program.
It was clear to all, however, that a critical aspect of the program needed to be the capacity to gather information on the type and degree of human activity—or human footprint—on the landscape. So, ABMI scientists generated a variety of protocols to gather this type of information, without which it would be difficult to identify the factors driving observed changes in species abundance and/or habitats.
From a management perspective, if the factors causing environmental change are known, it’s possible to evaluate these factors, adjust behaviour, and achieve a different outcome.
In the subsequent prototype phase of the ABMI (2003-2006), ABMI scientists evaluated and refined the various field and laboratory protocols to ensure each one met a variety of objectives. For example, can the protocol be implemented in a standardized manner across the province? And, does it effectively generate the type of data necessary to evaluate cumulative effects?
As described above, a key concern of ABMI scientists has been protocol development. Since the ABMI program was rolled out in 2007, however, there’s been a shift towards finding incremental improvements in these protocols. The new question: is there a better way to collect the data?
Furthermore, with the accumulation of species, habitat, and human footprint data at the ABMI in recent years, data interpretation and product innovation have emerged as key activities of ABMI scientists. The Science Centre’s mandate has expanded to encompass:
- The development of analyses and summary methods that produce clear and understandable measures of status and trend for biodiversity at both the site and regional scales.
- The creation of products that support land use and natural resource decision-making in Alberta.
A “greatest hits” list of ABMI Science Centre’s new products and analyses of recent years include:
- The ABMI Biodiversity Intactness Index —an indicator used to describe the health of taxa in a given area
- Estimated Intactness Map of Alberta—a visual representation of biodiversity intactness (based on 396 species) across the province
- ABMI wall-to-wall human footprint maps (circa 2007, 2010, and 2007)—the most comprehensive representations of human footprint in Alberta. See our recent issue of the “ABMI Science Letters” on the topic of “Human Footprint in Alberta.”
- Detailed species responses to human footprint and vegetation types [species.abmi.ca]
Several types of analyses are currently underway at the ABMI’s Science Centre that will inform tomorrow’s products, such as:
- An approach to evaluate the biodiversity intactness of wetlands
- What are the trends in human footprint and species abundance in Alberta?
- How can we account for the ecological benefits of recovery and/or reclamation of human footprint?
More questions? Feel free to contact:
Dr. Jim Schieck
Co-director, ABMI Science Centre