A rapidly changing climate and ever-expanding human footprint are key factors fueling a global biodiversity crisis. A major contributor to this threat is the way we often make land-use decisions around the globe - locally, uncoordinated, with little understanding of impacts on the broader ecosystem or the needs of species to move in response to climate change. This data gap is largely driven by the fact that local decision-makers lack the technical capacity to keep up-to-date on changes in species habitats and habitat connectivity, prioritize the landscape for conservation and restoration, incorporate climate change into their planning process, and build regional-scale blueprints for coordinating plans across management boundaries.
The Cascadia Partner Forum’s team of ecologists, conservation practitioners, and software engineers has developed a prototype tool to help guide and coordinate conservation planning at scale in support of biodiversity over time in a dynamic landscape and climate. The tool is designed to be applicable globally, at high resolution, to meet the local information needs of land managers and fill the data gap that hinders their ability to respond to the biodiversity crisis. It takes advantage of the latest advances in cloud-based supercomputing, artificial intelligence, and remote sensing to provide decision-makers with always up-to-date and relevant information on the regional context surrounding their local land-use practices.
The tool is currently running on Google Earth Engine, which enables the novel and revolutionary aspects of our tool -- automated detection of land cover change, automated modeling of habitat and habitat connectivity, and linking these automated processes to dynamic data sources so that the models can be regularly updated on a schedule, without time-consuming and expensive re-analysis efforts. This platform provides cutting-edge remote sensing and artificial intelligence capabilities to detect the effects of the expanding human footprint and climate change on Earth’s natural systems.
Though the tool is globally applicable, it is designed for adoption by regional and national actors. A multitude of locally customized versions of the tool can allow for regional differences in conservation priorities and threats, while providing local data to train models that match the scale of the regional ecosystem dynamics. Each region will have a suite of user-defined conservation targets (e.g. specific species, habitat types, biomes, or ecological processes) and for each, the tool provides automated and dynamic modeling required to map the target (e.g. habitat and connectivity models, climatic refugia, projections of range shifts, etc.) and monitor progress towards conservation goals. It then uses a prioritization algorithm to identify key areas for conservation and restoration that support biodiversity goals while also fitting within the available area for protection, staying within budget, and meeting other user-defined values (e.g. carbon storage, provisioning of water, etc).
Our goal is that this tool will help usher in an era of coordinated and dynamic conservation planning at scale in a way that responds adaptively to our changing landscape and climate to support Earth’s biodiversity. We are currently piloting the tool in the Cascadia region of Washington and British Columbia and will have an early prototype available by October, 2019.