Spatial prioritization for freshwater conservation planning in SW Ontario

Collaborators: Andrew Drake (Fisheries and Oceans Canada), Todd Morris (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) and Nicholas Mandrak (University of Toronto)

In response to Aichi Biodiversity Targets, the Canadian government is pursuing an agenda to protect 30% of land and freshwater areas by 2030. We applied a systematic approach to identify priority watersheds in south-western Ontario (i.e., key freshwater biodiversity hotspot in Canada) for freshwater biodiversity conservation. We combined data on human pressures and distributions of native, invasive, and at-risk fish and mussel species to generate prioritization templates for proactive (e.g., protected areas) and reactive (e.g., habitat restoration, reintroduction of threatened species) conservation strategies. The current distribution of protected areas is not optimised with respect to proposed spatial prioritization for proactive conservation. Our findings indicate that proactive conservation approaches can maximize conservation gains across multiple taxa in contrast to commonly used species-specific reactive strategies.