State of Ontario's Forests - Indicator Report

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1 Criterion 1 Conserving Biological Diversity Element 1 Conserving Ecosystem Diversity Indicator 2 Levels of Fragmentation and Connectedness of Forest Ecosystem Components Indicator Condition State Trend Data The level of fragmentation of a forest (e.g., how broken up or dispersed forests are on the landscape) affects ecological processes and wildlife habitat. Fragmentation levels also affect the capacity of the forest landscape to retain species and processes usually found in those habitats. Forest fragments may be too small to maintain viable breeding populations of certain species. Excessive fragmentation may contribute to the loss of plant and animal species that are unable to adapt to excessively fragmented forest conditions. This indicator uses satellite imagery to track long term changes in the distribution of forests in Ontario. More specifically the indicator considers three metrics (measures used for quantitative assessment): total core area index, edge density, and mean nearest neighbour. Over the reporting period there was very little change provincially, with some localized changes, mostly in southern Ontario (Mixedwood Plains). All the metrics show an increase in forest fragmentation and an overall reduction of forest area in southern Ontario. Forest loss in southern Ontario has been occurring for decades and results mainly from the clearing of forests for agricultural and urban development. Example map from The Forest Resources of Ontario 2011 illustrating the Total Core Area Index (a measure of forest interior patches) (light green values denote a low index, or small amount of forest core area, and the darker green values indicate larger core areas). Page 1 of 8

2 Background The level of fragmentation of a forest (e.g., how broken up or dispersed forests are on the landscape) affects ecological processes and wildlife habitat. Fragmentation levels also affect the capacity of the forest landscape to retain species and processes usually found in those habitats. Forest fragments may be too small to maintain viable breeding populations of certain species. Excessive fragmentation may contribute to the loss of plant and animal species that are unable to adapt to excessively fragmented forest conditions. While certain species and processes can survive and even thrive in fragmented landscapes, in general, the diversity and connectivity of natural features need to be maintained to ensure healthy populations of plant and animal life. This indicator uses satellite imagery to track long term changes in the distribution of forests in Ontario. More specifically the indicator considers three metrics (measures used for quantitative assessment): total core area index, edge density, and mean nearest neighbour. With the publication of the Forest Management Guide for Natural Disturbance Pattern Emulation in 2001, Ontario has been changing its forest practices on Crown forests so that biodiversity and natural processes are more proactively maintained. This is accomplished in part by emulating as closely as possible the landscape patterns produced by forest fires (e.g., variation in size and shape). The metrics reported in this indicator can be used to evaluate progress towards more natural landscape patterns. The metrics in this indicator were calculated using the ecological land classification of Ontario at the ecozone, ecoregion and ecodistrict levels for each metric. The classification scheme used was based on forest, disturbed forest, forested wetland and non-forest classes from the 2008 provincial landcover. The Total Core Area Index measures forest interior patches, or large blocks of forest. Mean nearest neighbour is a measure of forest isolation, or shortest distance to another patch of forest. Mean nearest neighbour assesses forest connectedness. Some wildlife species (like American marten) require larger patches of well-connected forest as part of their preferred habitat. Edge density measures the metres of forest edge to disturbed forest and non-forest edge per hectare of forest which is important for many wildlife species. Some songbirds require complex edges between forest types and non-forest as part of their preferred habitat. For detailed information on how forests are tracked and measured, please refer to The Forest Resources of Ontario The State of Ontario s Biodiversity 2010 report also contains a description of Ontario s ecozones and indicators on forest cover and forest fragmentation in the mixedwood plains ecozone. Page 2 of 8

3 Discussion The state was assessed as good. Forest metrics in the AOU (area of the undertaking, or area where forest management is conducted) are stable, and have been for some time. There are localized anomalies. The condition was ranked as no change. The provincial trend is stable, with some local variation. Southern Ontario (Mixedwood Plains Ecozone) showed a trend to fewer, smaller and more fragmented forests. Total core area index, edge density, and mean nearest neighbour of forests remain stable across the province (Figure 1.1.2b, 1.1.2c, and 1.1.2d). The data were considered adequate. The satellite imagery was adequate to monitor the levels of fragmentation and connectedness in Ontario s forest ecosystem. Page 3 of 8

4 Data Data for the metrics presented in this indicator report are summarized in Table 1.1.2a and Figures 1.1.2a-d. Table 1.1.2a: Summary of forest fragmentation indices calculated based on satellite imagery classifications. Ecozone Total Core Area Index 1 Metric Edge Density 2 Mean Nearest Neighbour 3 Hudson Bay Lowlands Boreal Shield What does it mean? Forest in this ecozone is in relatively small patches within larger wetland complexes. There has been little change in the amount and distribution of forests in this ecozone in the past five years. Forest in this ecozone is widespread and in large, well-connected patches. There has been a slight increase in the size of forest patches and an associated decrease in the amount of edge (where forested area and non-forest area meet) in the last five years. This change likely resulted from the introduction of Ontario's approach of emulating natural disturbance patterns in forest harvesting. Mixedwood Shield Forest in this ecozone is widespread and in large, well-connected patches. There has been little change in the amount and distribution of forests in this ecozone in the past five years. Mixedwood Plains Provincial Average Forested area in this ecozone is decreasing as forests on private land are being cleared for agricultural and urban development. The remaining forest patches in this ecozone are smaller and more spread out than they were five years ago. Overall, forests in the province are widespread and in large, well-connected patches that are not changing. Forests in the southern portion of the province are under pressure due to agricultural and urban development. 1 Total Core Area - Higher Index Values generally indicate more forest is in large patches while lower index values indicate more forest in smaller patches. 2 Edge Density - Higher values generally indicate that there is more edge (more areas where forest and non-forest meet) 3 Mean Nearest Neighbour Index - Higher index values generally indicate that forest patches are widely distributed on the landscape (i.e. they are not close together). Page 4 of 8

5 Figure 1.1.2a: Example map from The Forest Resources of Ontario 2011 illustrating the Total Core Area Index (a measure of forest Interior patches) (light green values denote a low index, or small amount of forest core area, and the darker green values indicate larger core areas). Page 5 of 8

6 Core Area Index (%) Edge Density (m/ha) Hudson Bay Lowlands Ontario Shield (Boreal) Ontario Shield (GLSL) Mixedwood Plains - Hudson Bay Lowlands Ontario Shield (Boreal) Ontario Shield (GLSL) Mixedwood Plains Figure 1.1.2b: Total Core Area Index by ecozone 1996, Figure 1.1.2c: Edge density (m/ha) by ecozone 1996, 2002, and , and Mean Nearest Neighbour (m) Hudson Bay Lowlands Ontario Shield (Boreal) Ontario Shield (GLSL) Mixedwood Plains Figure 1.1.2d: Mean nearest neighbour by ecozone 1996, 2002, and Page 6 of 8

7 Methods For more detailed information on the methodology please refer to The Forest Resources of Ontario The indicator was assessed by measuring three forest metrics (total core area index, edge density, and mean nearest neighbour) based on satellite (landcover) imagery from 1996, 2002 and a 2008 update of the 2002 base set. The satellite (landcover) imagery used for this report is based on Landsat with harvest, natural depletion and silvicultural survey data. Southern Ontario updates are based on the Southern Ontario Land Resource Information System (SOLRIS). Portions of southern Ontario were based on imagery in the landcover 2002 data set. Total Core Area Index (TCAI) is a measure of core area, or forest interior. Mathematically, TCAI is an expression of the sum of the core areas of each forest patch, divided by the total forest area, multiplied by 100 (to convert to a percentage). TCAI equals the percentage of the landscape that is core area. In figure 1.1.2a the light green values denote a low index, or small amount of forest core area, and the darker green values indicate larger core areas. Edge density is an expression of the length of forest edge in a landscape divided by the total area of the forest (metres of edge per hectare of forest). Mean nearest neighbour is a measure of patch isolation, or the measure of the shortest distance to a similar patch. This metric is an indication of forest connectedness. The indicator will be updated every five years as the landcover satellite imagery is updated with both land class changes as well as new imagery. Other Reading OMNR (draft). Forest Resources of Ontario Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Forest Information Series. 260p. Ontario Biodiversity Council State of Ontario s biodiversity A report of the Ontario Biodiversity Council, Peterborough, ON. Page 7 of 8

8 Author Larry Watkins Page 8 of 8

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