Human activity impacts biodiversity in oil sands region

ABMI reports 13.8% of visibly converted by development; species intactness at 88%.

June 17, 2014   by PLANT STAFF

EDMONTON — Mankind is leaving many footprints in the oil sands region of Alberta, but the most come from agriculture, according to the report by the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI).

The arm’s-length, not-for-profit scientific organization based in Edmonton says forestry and energy follow the province’s dominant activity.

The Status of Biodiversity in the Oil Sands Region of Alberta presents data on human footprint throughout the region as well as the current condition (status) of 425 species of plants and animals, with a focus on those most sensitive to human development.

As of 2012, the total human footprint was 13.8%. Agriculture was the largest footprint type, covering 7.3% of the region, followed by forestry at 3.1% and energy at 2.3%.

However, while agriculture has remained relatively unchanged through 1999-2012, forestry has increased 72% and energy 44%.

ABMI’s Biodiversity Intactness Index, a measure of how much more or less common a species is compared to an undeveloped landscape free of human footprint, is 88% for the 425 species assessed in the oil sands regions. That represents a 12% deviation from expected abundance relative to an undisturbed area.

One species of bird that has not fared well is the black-throated green warbler, now 50% less abundant in the region compared to an undeveloped landscape free of human activity.

ABMI notes this small songbird prefers old forest habitat (tree stands between 80-130 years old), elements of which, such as large trees and snags, are also less abundant than expected throughout the region.

Other old-forest associated species such as the fisher (a small mammal with few predators due its speed and agility), the well-camouflaged bird, the brown creeper, and the delicate one-flowered wintergreen were all less abundant.

However, species that thrive in areas with human development, such as the coyote and the black-billed magpie, are more abundant.

Click here to download a copy of the report.

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