Evaluating the representation of ecological features in a protected area network: A Gap Analysis study of the Yukon
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A gap analysis study was conducted to assess the effectiveness of the protected area network in the Yukon Territory, based on the degree of representation of key ecological features. Protected area (PA) networks that are representative of the ecology over a large region are considered desirable for conservation; however, representative PA networks are challenging to achieve because ecological gaps often exist in the PA network. Ecological gaps signify conservation shortfalls, which weaken the overall success of the PA network. To determine if gaps were present in the Yukon’s PA network, five geographic information systems datasets were obtained from a variety of sources, in order to be processed in the gap analysis study of the Yukon. A comparison index method was employed to evaluate the representation of ecological features from three of the datasets: ecoregions, landcover and wildlife key areas. In addition, two human disturbance datasets, roads and communities, were used to assess the human footprint across the landscape. The results illustrated that the human footprint in the Yukon was generally minor; however, the region surrounding the city of Whitehorse was found to have the highest level of human disturbance. Areas which were disturbed by humans were considered unfavourable for conservation purposes, while regions relatively devoid of human impacts were considerably more desirable. Regions which displayed low levels of representation of ecological features were also ecologically desirable because these areas represented gaps in the Yukon’s PA network. Of the 57 ecological features used in this gap analysis study, 51% were not well represented by the current PA network, which highlights that there were substantial ecological gaps. The most prominent gaps were located in the southeast, central-west and northeast portions of the Yukon. Less critical gaps were prevalent throughout central Yukon. The findings also identified which ecological features were inadequately represented.