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Technical Thematic Report No. 14. - Trends in wildlife habitat capacity on agricultural land in Canada, 1986-2006

Mixedwood Plains Ecozone+

Agricultural landscapes

The agricultural landscapeFootnote11 in the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone+ is characterized by corn, soybeans, grains, hay and fruit production, and dairy operations. The agricultural landscape expanded between 1986 and 2006 from approximately 6.0 to 6.5 million hectares to comprise around 60% (Figure 8) of the ecozone+.

Figure 9 shows the total agricultural land area and the amount of land per cover type in 1986, 1996, and 2006. Over this period the share of CroplandFootnote12 expanded from 61 to 70% of the agricultural landscape representing an intensification of agriculture based primarily on the substantial increase in Soybean production (7 to 16%). The share of the other major crops in the Mixedwood Plains (Corn) was stable comprising around 19% of total agricultural land. Unimproved Pasture (10 to 6%), Improved Pasture (8 to 5%), and All Other land (19.9 to 19.6%) declined while Tame Hay (12 to 19%) increased.

Figure 8. The percentage of agricultural land within the Soil Landscapes of Canada (SLC) polygons of the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone+, 2006.

map

Long Description for Figure 8

This map shows the percentage of agricultural land within the SLC polygons of the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone+ in 2006. The agricultural landscape comprises around 60% of the ecozone+, most predominantly in the southern and northern portions of the ecozone+.

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Figure 9. Total agricultural land area, the amount of land per cover type (chart), and the relative percentage of each cover type (table) for the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone+ for 1986, 1996, and 2006.

graph

Long Description for Figure 9

This graphic presents a stacked bar graph showing the following information:

Percentage of agricultural land (hectares)
Cover Type198619962006
Oilseeds40,61921,83210,559
Pulses56,80848,80473,935
Soybeans384,266869,9691,036,254
Berries6,7197,9408,566
Improved Pasture489,683386,945300,005
All Other Land1,181,2431,183,5261,285,232
Summerfallow89,90523,19513,465
Unimproved Pasture581,421629,163382,463
Cereals746,183426,691415,718
Corn1,200,6231,233,8881,182,367
Tame Hay685,0601,265,5961,228,096
Other Crops53,06458,62750,336
Fruit Trees38,16332,04229,307
Vegetables92,982101,862105,882
Winter Cereals291,965321,219443,418

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Potential wildlife use of agricultural lands

A total of 355 wildlife species (252 birds; 58 mammals; 24 reptiles; 21 amphibians) used agricultural land in the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone+. Of these, 86% (305) of species could fulfill their breeding and feeding habitat requirements within the cover types represented in the All Other Land category. In contrast, only 15% (53) of species had both these requirements met on Croplandalone. Twenty-six percent of species (91) could use Croplandhabitat for a single habitat requirement (either breeding or feeding) given that sufficient alternative land cover was present to meet the other habitat requirement. Similarly, 19% (66) of species used Unimproved Pasture for both breeding and feeding, while 33% (118) utilized this cover type for a single requirement.

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Wildlife habitat capacity

Average wildlife habitat capacity on agricultural land declined significantly from 1986 to 2006 (52.5 ± 17.7 to 50.0 ± 14.6) (ANOVA, F = 3.19, p = 0.041) (Figure 10). The spatial distribution of habitat capacity values for these years are shown in Figure 11 and Figure 12 respectively. Over this period, habitat capacity decreased on 36% of agricultural land, increased on 20%, and was constant on 45% (Figure 13).

Habitat capacity on agricultural land declined in all ecoregions within the Mixedwood Plains. The Lake Erie Lowlands had the lowest habitat capacity (38.2 ± 14.1to 37.8 ± 10.3) among ecoregions followed by Manitoulin-Lake Simcoe (52.3 ± 12.2 to 47.3 ± 8.3), Frontenac Axis (64.9 ± 4.2 to 50.7 ± 0.7 and St Lawrence Lowlands (56.9 ± 17.1 to 56.7 ± 15.5).

Figure 10. The share of agricultural land in each habitat capacity category (bars, left axis) and the average habitat capacity for the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone+ in 1986, 1996, and 2006 (points and line, right axis).

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Long Description for Figure 10

This stacked percentage bar graph shows the following information:

Habitat capacity Categories

  • Very high 90->100
  • High  70-90
  • Moderate 50-70
  • Low 30-50
  • Very low <20-30
Share of agricultural land per habitat capacity category (percentage)
Habitat capacity
Categories
198619962006
<203.592.88 2.98
20-309.5613.2313.98
30-4028.4831.9227.47
40-5018.0621.3324.79
50-6021.3218.7218.10
60-7012.818.437.03
70-805.212.674.33
80-900.500.630.94
90-1000.060.080.30
>1000.410.110.08

The average habitat capacity for the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone+ was 52.47 in 1986, 50.37 in 1996 and 50.07 in 2006.

Years with different letters differed significantly (ANOVA: F = 3.19, Tukey HSD p<0.05).

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Figure 11. Wildlife habitat capacity on agricultural land in the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone+, 1986.

map

Long Description for Figure 11

This map shows wildlife habitat capacity on agricultural land in the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone+ in 1986. The majority of the ecozone+ is shown in the moderate habitat capacity category, with the exception of the southern region of the ecoczone+ and St. Lawrence Lowlands region dominated by very low and low habitat capacities.

HC means average Habitat Capacity for the ecoregion. All SLC polygons with >5% agricultural land were included in the analysis.

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Figure 12. Wildlife habitat capacity on agricultural land in the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone+, 2006.

map

Long Description for Figure 12

This map shows wildlife habitat capacity on agricultural land in the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone+ in 2006. The majority of the ecozone+ is shown in the moderate and low habitat capacity category, with the exception of the southern region of the ecoczone+ and St. Lawrence Lowlands region dominated by very low and low habitat capacities.

HC means average Habitat Capacity for the ecoregion. All SLC polygons with >5% agricultural land were included in the analysis.

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Figure 13. Change in wildlife habitat capacity on agricultural land in the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone+ between 1986 and 2006.

map

Long Description for Figure 13

This map shows change in wildlife habitat capacity on agricultural land in the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone+ between 1986 and 2006. Over this period, habitat capacity decreased on 36% of agricultural land, increased on 20%, and was constant on 45%.

ANOVA, Tukey HSD p<0.05. All SLC polygons with >5% agricultural land were included in the analysis.

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Interpretation

The current status of habitat capacity (low) in the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone+ is attributable to Cropland comprising close to 70% of the agricultural landscape – much of which is under intensive agricultural production, leaving only limited natural and semi-natural land cover to provide suitable habitat needed by the majority of species to fulfill breeding and feeding requirements.

The intensification of agriculture was the primary cause of the significant habitat capacity decline that occurred between 1986 and 2006 as the share of total agricultural land with Soybean more than doubled from 7 to 16%. When combined with Corn, which actually declined slightly over this period (20 to 18%), the expansion of Soybean represented an expanded portion of agricultural land with cover types of little value as wildlife habitat (27 to 34%). The expansion of intensive agricultural production reduced the share of comparatively more valuable wildlife habitat such as All Other Land (19.9 to 19.6%), Unimproved Pasture (10 to 6%), and Improved Pasture (8 to 5%) and was the primary driver of habitat capacity decline in the ecozone+. The majority of Unimproved Pasture decline occurred between 1996 and 2006 and given its relatively small share of total agricultural land to start with represented additional pressure on grassland dependant species. The expansion of Tame Hay (12 to 19%) had variable impact on habitat capacity depending on what cover type was converted. Land converted from Cereals to Tame Hay would benefit wildlife whereas any conversion of All Other Land, Unimproved Pasture, or Improved Pasture to Tame Hay reduced habitat capacity of agricultural land.

The major variability in the status of habitat capacity among ecoregions in the Mixedwood Plains in 2006 primarily resulted from the amount and type of Cropland along with the relative share of natural/semi-natural land. The Lake Erie Lowland reported the lowest habitat capacity (low: 37.8 ± 10.3) as Cropland comprised over 82% of the agricultural landscape (Corn/Soybean close to 50%) with only 13% All Other Land and 2% Unimproved Pasture. Higher habitat capacity in the Frontenac Axis (50.7 ± 0.7) and Manitoulin-Lake Simcoe (47.3 ± 8.3) and Saint Lawrence Lowlands (56.7 ± 15.5) was due to comparatively lower share of Cropland (52, 66 and 66% respectively) and greater All Other Land (21, 18 and 26%, respectively). The higher All Other Land component in the Saint Lawrence Lowlands was the main reason for this ecoregion reporting the highest habitat capacity on agricultural land in the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone+. There were, however, other agricultural land use differences among these ecoregions, that impacted wildlife habitat capacity. Intensive Corn/Soybean production was considerably higher in Saint Lawrence Lowlands (32%) and Manitoulin-Lake Simcoe (30%) as compared to the Frontenac Axis which had less than 1% Soybean and 17% Corn. The Frontenac Axis had considerably more Unimproved Pasture (20%); the second most important cover type for wildlife, than did the Saint Lawrence Lowlands (5%) and Manitoulin-Lake Simcoe (9%).

Habitat capacity on agricultural land declined in all ecoregions within the Mixedwood Plains between 1986 and 2006. As for the ecozone+ as a whole, the main driver of habitat capacity decline in the Lake Erie Lowland, Manitoulin-Lake Simcoe, and Saint Lawrence Lowlands ecoregions was the intensification of agriculture with the Saint Lawrence Lowlands and Manitoulin-Lake Simcoe also experiencing loss of Unimproved Pasture (10 to 5% and 14 to 9% respectively). Unimproved Pasture declined only by 1% in the Lake Erie Lowland (3 to 2 %), however this reduction of an already small, yet important cover type certainly impacted the value of agricultural land as wildlife habitat. Habitat capacity decline in the Frontenac Axis did not result from intensification of farming but rather the loss of All Other land (28 to 21%) and Improved Pasture (13 to 7%) along with a slight decline in Unimproved Pasture (22 to 20%).

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Footnotes

Footnote 11

The agricultural landscape (or agricultural land), as discussed throughout this report, includes the “All Other Land” category from the Census of Agriculture, which is made up of areas such as wetlands, riparian zones, shelterbelts, woodlands, idle land/old fields, and anthropogenic areas (farm buildings, green houses, and lanes).

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Footnote 12

Cropland includes all agricultural land except for All Other Land, Unimproved Pasture, Improved Pasture, and Summerfallow.

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