Biodiversity Outcomes of Land Management Choices in Alberta’s Agricultural Lands

Majid Iravani
Brandon Allen
Ermias Azeria
Monica Kohler
Shannon White
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Beneficial land management practices have been the center of conservation activities to mitigate biodiversity loss in agricultural lands. However, practical methods that account for the gains and losses in biodiversity from land management choices remain lacking. To help the Alberta Agriculture Sector in exploring opportunities to participate in biodiversity markets, we used species-specific habitat models for 232 native species from five different taxonomic groups to quantify current biodiversity intactness, and estimate the gains and losses in biodiversity from a set of relevant land management scenarios across an agricultural watershed in southwestern Alberta. Here we provide a summary of the modeling methods and results, with a focus on the biodiversity outcomes of (1) converting land areas under cultivation by annual crops to tame perennials or native perennials, and (2) changing grazing intensity management in non-footprint land areas that have been historically grazed by livestock.

The current biodiversity intactness varied among the analyzed species and taxonomic groups. Overall, the examined land management scenarios resulted in increased biodiversity across agricultural lands in the studied watershed. However, the magnitude of this increase varied among examined scenarios, species, and taxonomic groups. The examined management scenarios, therefore, can be considered beneficial management practices in Alberta’s agricultural lands. However, to increase the success of markets for biodiversity, attention needs to be paid to the response of species or groups of species of interest to specific land management practices.

This assessment helps understand better market opportunities associated with biodiversity management in Alberta’s agricultural lands. Serving as a proof of concept, the modeling framework developed here can be used as a step toward quantifying gains or losses in biodiversity from relevant land management scenarios. Furthermore, the information generated can be used by relevant industries to ensure biodiversity conservation through the procurement of biodiversity offsets. The data produced in this study will be integrated into a decision support tool that includes a wider range of ecosystem services and land management scenarios to help manage multiple ecosystem services and biodiversity in Alberta’s agricultural landscapes.