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Prairies Ecozone+ Evidence for Key Findings Summary

Conclusion: Human Well-Being and Biodiversity

Human/ecosystem interactions have been a the key driver of changes in this ecozone+, with over 70% of the original landscape converted from natural vegetation to cropland over a span of about a century. Remaining natural areas are fragmented and, in many cases, have been further altered by changes to natural disturbance regimes. This has altered the capacity of the landscape to support biodiversity and deliver ecosystem goods and services. Channeling of primary production into agricultural crops and of secondary production into livestock has increased provisioning services but decreased many regulating and cultural services. Superimposed on this structural change has been change in community composition resulting particularly from invasion of non-native species, with more subtle effects on the delivery of ecosystem goods and services.

The addition of fertilizers has altered nutrient cycling on agricultural land. Nutrient loading from agricultural runoff and municipal effluents has accelerated the eutrophication of water bodies, causing algal blooms and reducing habitat for some fish and other biota. Habitat capacity has been reduced through fragmentation and large-scale land conversion. The reduction in this capacity is manifested in the decline of grassland birds in general, and of many species at risk.

Accelerated climate change threatens the productivity of the landscape. Primary productivity has been harnessed for the benefit of humans, but those benefits do not translate positively for all biodiversity. As a result, ecosystems have been converted in their composition and structure to ones that support human life in a way much different from pre-European settlement. One consequence these interactions have on biodiversity is a reduction in the landscape's resiliency to disturbance.

Despite the extent of human modification to the landscape, the remaining natural areas, including grasslands, woodlands, and wetlands, are still significant for biodiversity, supporting important and unique flora and fauna. Many grasslands continue to support both biodiversity and livestock grazing, which under proper management can be highly compatible with conservation goals. The landscape also provides services such as water, crop pollination, nutrient cycling, traditional foods, hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation.

The key to conserving biodiversity and preventing further fragmentation, loss, and degradation of habitats and ecosystems will be continued application and strengthening of federal and provincial regulations and policies complemented by work with landowners and industry to increase stewardship activities. With respect to stewardship, advances have been made in this area, particularly with agricultural producers; nevertheless, losses and degradation continue.

It is difficult to gauge the impacts to biodiversity, natural disturbances, and ecological processes due to the lack of an adequate monitoring network.

The Prairies Ecozone+ represents a unique challenge to find methods to conserve biodiversity in a region so important to human food production. The two are inextricably linked, as without the supporting services of healthy ecosystems, food production is not sustainable.

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