Key Findings at a Glance
Although the interface between science and policy was not the focus of this assessment, themes and ideas recurred throughout the development and review process and have been grouped into two categories. The first deals with the nature and quality of information available for assessing ecosystem status and trends in Canada. The second deals with the policy implications resulting from rapid and unexpected change and the crossing of ecological thresholds, especially in the context of a changing climate.
Piecing together information from disparate sources is currently the only way to assess status and trends of Canada’s ecosystems. In some cases, there are good data sets backed by long–term monitoring programs. Information is sometimes available for status but not trends, or trend information is limited to a small geographic area over a short time interval. Often, information critical to the assessment of ecosystem health is missing. Reporting on status and trends requires more than monitoring results. The context, cause–and–effect linkages, and knowledge of ecosystem functioning that will tell a coherent story is drawn from ecological research. Improved collaboration among Canada’s ecological research, monitoring, and policy communities and institutions, focused on identifying and addressing policy–relevant questions would enhance future assessments of status and trends.
When thresholds have been crossed, ecosystems shift irrevocably from one state to another. Options for action are usually limited, expensive, and have a low probability of success. Taking earlier action, when ecosystem changes have been detected but thresholds have not yet been crossed, creates more options and a greater probability of reversing or stabilizing impacts. In some cases, early warning signals appear in a few locations or in a few individuals in a population. When it is possible to take preventative action in response to early warnings, the probability of success is greatest and the long–term costs are usually lower.
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