Wildlife Habitat Capacity on Farmland Indicator

The Wildlife Habitat Capacity on Farmland Indicator summarizes the availability of suitable habitat on Canadian farmland for vertebrate populations, from 2000 to 2015. Approximately 8% of Canada’s landmass is used for agriculture, an area that is home for 547 identified species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. The Wildlife Habitat Capacity Indicator is now based on detailed land cover information from satellite imagery, available only since 2000.

Overall state and trend

From 2000 to 2015, approximately 63% of Canada’s farmland has maintained its wildlife capacity, while approximately 30% had a decline in capacity, and about 7% increased in capacity.

Use the interactive map below to zoom in and explore different regions in 2015 and 2000.

Note that regions of low or very low capacity for wildlife are the areas of most concentrated annual crop production, in the Mixedwood Plains region of Eastern Canada, and in parts of the Great Plains. High capacity for wildlife habitat is found in areas associated with mixed farming, including more pasture land, forest land and wetlands within the agricultural region.

Figure 1: Wildlife Habitat Capacity, 2015
Very high High Moderate Low Very low
Figure 2: Wildlife Habitat Capacity, 2000
Very high High Moderate Low Very low

Use the interactive map in Figure 3 to explore the change wildlife capacity between 2000 and 2015. Much of the land has remained stable or experienced slight decreases or increases in habitat suitability, but some pockets of significant decline are found in both the east and the west.

Figure 3: Change in Wildlife Habitat Capacity between 2000 and 2015
Large decline Moderate decline Slight decline Stable Slight increase Moderate increase Large increase

Wildlife Habitat on Farmland performance index

The state and trend of the Wildlife Habitat on Farmland Indicator can also be seen in the performance index below.

Figure 4: Wildlife Habitat on Farmland index
Description - Figure 4
Year Index Value
2000 62
2005 62
2010 62
2015 63

When viewed at a national scale using a single index value for the whole country, overall wildlife habitat capacity on farmland has not changed significantly between 2000 and 2015. The index tends to aggregate and generalize trends and so should be viewed as a policy tool to give a general overview of state and trend over time.

It is important to recognize that a desired level of habitat capability is likely unattainable on annual cropland. While some species find cropland good for feeding, fewer species can use it for reproduction because of the disruption of cultivation, seeding and harvest. A moderate to good rating is achieved only because of the heterogeneity of the land cover.

How performance indices are calculated

Specific trends

In any given landscape, the overall wildlife habitat capability is a combination of the capabilities of each of the land cover types to support the feeding and reproduction requirements of the species that would normally include the region as a part of their natural range. Figure 5 shows the number of species that can use each of the land cover types for feeding and reproduction. Where annual cropland is a part of a complex mosaic of unimproved pasture land, grassland, forests and wetland areas, it is more supportive of wildlife.

Figure 5: The number of wildlife species using each of the cover types for feeding and reproduction on agricultural land in Canada
Description - Figure 5
Land cover type The number of wildlife species using each of the cover types for feeding The number of wildlife species using each of the cover types for reproduction
Exposed Land 117 78
Forest Wetland 254 273
Wetland 267 334
Water 70 129
Regeneration (Fire) 240 314
Regeneration (Harvest) 239 313
Forest 337 347
Pasture (Native Grassland) 304 346
Pasture (Unimproved) 340 384
Cropland (Summerfallow) 17 82
Cropland (Fruit & Berry) 94 158
Cropland (Perennial) 83 167
Cropland (Annual) 29 139
Vegetated Settlement 216 255
Settlement 46 65

Why this indicator matters

Canada’s diverse agricultural landscape provides habitat for close to 600 species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. The vast majority of wildlife species (close to 90%) associated with agricultural land depend upon natural or semi-natural land-cover types, such as woodlands, wetlands or grasslands, to provide essential breeding and feeding habitat. Just 3% of the identified wildlife species could fulfill both breeding and feeding requirements on annual cropland alone. This indicates that the existence of viable wildlife populations on farmland is tied to the availability of natural and semi-natural cover types within the Canadian agricultural landscape.

Because farming is a business driven by markets and commodity prices, it can be challenging to balance high productivity with the long-term health of the agro-ecosystem as a whole. Wildlife habitat on farmland can be degraded through the conversion of natural and semi-natural areas to cropland, increased use of chemical inputs, drainage of wetlands, removal of shelterbelts and natural field barriers to accommodate larger machinery, and sometimes through an increase in livestock density. These changes can lead to habitat fragmentation and the loss of landscape heterogeneity.

Agriculture benefits from the important ecosystem services provided by wildlife, including crop pollination and natural pest control. The provision of wildlife habitat in agricultural regions, through the creation or maintenance of buffers, woodlots or wetlands, for example, can also provide other benefits such as improved soil and water quality, efficient nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration.

Agriculture has the potential to mitigate the loss of suitable habitat or to create new habitat by implementing beneficial management practices (BMPs).

Beneficial management practices

In the Prairies especially, producers can improve wildlife habitat by reducing summerfallow  and tillage intensity and by converting annual crops to perennial cropping systems.

Through environmental farm planning activities, producers learn about the impacts their farming operations can have on wildlife and about the BMPs they can implement to address these issues. These BMPs include managing riparian areas and woodlots; converting marginal cropland to permanent cover; planting or maintaining shelterbelts and hedgerows; delaying haying; and conserving wetland, wetland buffers, and natural and semi-natural lands. All these practices can have a substantial, positive impact on wildlife.

A number of species that are endangered or at risk are native to natural grasslands. Once grasslands have been cultivated, it can take decades or centuries for them to revert to their natural state. Maintaining grassland areas for grazing, combined with management practices conducive to restoring their natural state, represents an economically viable way to have a significant positive impact on wildlife habitat suitability in regions where natural grasslands are found.

About the performance indices

The agri-environmental performance index shows environmental performance state and trends over time, based on weighting the percentage of agricultural land in each indicator class, such that the index ranges from 0 (all land in the most undesirable category) to 100 (all land in the most desirable category). An index value that is increasing over time suggests improving environmental performance, while a decreasing index value suggests deteriorating environmental performance over time.

Related indicators

  • The Soil Cover Indicator summarizes the effective number of days in a year that agricultural soils are covered by vegetation, crop residue or snow. When combined with the Wildlife Habitat Capacity Indicator, it provides a snapshot of biodiversity potential on farmland in Canada.

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