Agricultural Landscapes as Habitat

Wildlife Habitat Capacity Indicator

The capacity of agricultural landscapes to provide habitat for wildlife depends upon the mosaic of land-cover types and their management. One way to measure the potential of these lands to support populations of terrestrial vertebrates is through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Wildlife Habitat Capacity on Agricultural Land Indicator.3 The indicator ranks potential wildlife habitat capacity for 15 habitat categories based on an assessment of the use and value of 31 land-cover types to 588 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Results show that natural areas and unimproved pasture provide the highest values, while cultivated lands, in particular croplands, provide the lowest. Natural lands, including woodlands, wetlands, and riparian areas, can provide all breeding and feeding habitat requirements for 75% of the species assessed, whereas croplands can only provide requirements for 13%.3

Wildlife habitat capacity on the agricultural landscape

Status in 2006
Map: wildlife habitat capacity on the agricultural landscape. Click for graphic description (new window).
Source: adapted from Javorek and Grant, 20103

In 2006, the average potential ability of the agricultural landscape to support wildlife was lowest in the Prairies, Boreal Plains, and Mixedwood Plains ecozones+, which together make up 92% of the agricultural landscape in Canada.3 Trends for individual parcels of land are variable and depend upon changes in their particular use. Although individual parcels, particularly pasture, provide critical wildlife habitat, the dominance of cropland results in a low overall capacity for much of these ecozones+. The ecozones+ where the agricultural footprint was lighter and the dominant land cover within the agricultural landscape was natural (Atlantic Maritime and Boreal Shield) or unimproved pasture (Montane Cordillera, Western Interior Basin, and Pacific Maritime) had the highest wildlife capacity.3

Change in the average wildlife habitat capacity on the agricultural landscape by ecozone+

Habitat Capacity Index, 1986 to 2006
Graph: change in average wildlife capacity by ecozone+. Click for graphic description (new window).
Source: adapted from Javorek and Grant, 20103

Average wildlife habitat capacity, considering both declines in capacity of some individual parcels and increases in others, declined significantly between 1986 and 2006 in all ecozones+ except the Prairies, where it remained low.3 Conversion of small habitat parcels, such as on field margins in the Prairies,5 are not always detected at this broad scale and could represent further degradation of habitat capacity.3 Overall declines in Canada are due primarily to the intensification of farming and the conversion of natural lands to other land-cover types, such as cropland, that are less suitable to wildlife. From 1986 to 2006, the proportion of agricultural land classified as cropland increased from 46 to 53%.3