Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 186, Issue 4, pp 2505–2534 | Cite as

Monitoring an ecosystem at risk: What is the degree of grassland fragmentation in the Canadian Prairies?

  • Laura Roch
  • Jochen A. G. JaegerEmail author


Increasing fragmentation of grassland habitats by human activities is a major threat to biodiversity and landscape quality. Monitoring their degree of fragmentation has been identified as an urgent need. This study quantifies for the first time the current degree of grassland fragmentation in the Canadian Prairies using four fragmentation geometries (FGs) of increasing specificity (i.e. more restrictive grassland classification) and five types of reporting units (7 ecoregions, 50 census divisions, 1,166 municipalities, 17 sub-basins, and 108 watersheds). We evaluated the suitability of 11 datasets based on 8 suitability criteria and applied the effective mesh size (m eff) method to quantify fragmentation. We recommend the combination of the Crop Inventory Mapping of the Prairies and the CanVec datasets as the most suitable for monitoring grassland fragmentation. The grassland area remaining amounts to 87,570.45 km2 in FG4 (strict grassland definition) and 183,242.042 km2 in FG1 (broad grassland definition), out of 461,503.97 km2 (entire Prairie Ecozone area). The very low values of m eff of 14.23 km2 in FG4 and 25.44 km2 in FG1 indicate an extremely high level of grassland fragmentation. The m eff method is supported in this study as highly suitable and recommended for long-term monitoring of grasslands in the Canadian Prairies; it can help set measurable targets and/or limits for regions to guide management efforts and as a tool for performance review of protection efforts, for increasing awareness, and for guiding efforts to minimize grassland fragmentation. This approach can also be applied in other parts of the world and to other ecosystems.


Effective mesh size Ecological indicators Grassland conservation Landscape fragmentation Fragmentation per se Protected areas Prairie ecozone Roads Urban sprawl 

Abbreviations used


City Biodiversity Index


Fragmentation geometry


Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators


Federal Sustainable Development Strategy


Effective mesh size


Effective mesh density


Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada


Spatial and Temporal Variation in Nesting Success of Prairie Ducks Study

CUT procedure

Cutting-out procedure

CBC procedure

Cross-boundary connections procedure


Census division




Conservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System


Canadian Council on Ecological Areas


Representative Areas Network


Electronic supplementary material



We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of the following people who have provided valuable information and data: Mickey Currie (Alberta Sustainable Resource Development), ZuZu (Fawziah) Gadallah (Environment Canada), Scott Mitchell (Carleton University, Ottawa), John Riley (Nature Conservancy of Canada), Susan Witherly (Ducks Unlimited), Patrick Rollin (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada), Alexis Dorais (Univ. de Montréal) and David Beauchesne (Concordia Univ. Montréal). We also thank everyone who replied to our inquiries about available datasets, two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments, and Environment Canada for financial support.

Supplementary material

10661_2013_3557_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (4.8 mb)
ESM 1 PDF 4.76 MB


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography, Planning and EnvironmentConcordia University MontrealMontrealCanada

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