Key Findings at a Glance

Science–Policy Interface

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.

Biodiversity Monitoring, Research, Information Management, and Reporting

Long–term, standardized, spatially complete, and readily accessible monitoring information, complemented by ecosystem research, provides the most useful findings for policy–relevant assessments of status and trends. The lack of this type of information in many areas has hindered development of this assessment.

Person monitoring geese © Jim Leafloor. Click to go to the Biodiversity Monitoring, Research, Information Management, and Reporting section. 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.

Rapid Change and Thresholds

Growing understanding of rapid and unexpected changes, interactions, and thresholds, especially in relation to climate change, points to a need for policy that responds and adapts quickly to signals of environmental change in order to avert major and irreversible biodiversity losses. 

Sunset over sea ice © istock.com/graphicjackson. Click to go to the Rapid Change and Thresholds section. 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.