Spatial prediction tools for biodiversity in environmental assessment

University dissertation from Stockholm : KTH

Abstract: Human activities in the form of land use changes, urbanisation and infrastructure developments are major threats to biodiversity. The loss and fragmentation of natural habitats are great obstacles for the long term preservation of biodiversity and nature protection measures alone may not be sufficient to tackle the problem. Environmental impact assessment (EIA) and strategic environmental assessment (SEA) play a central role in identifying, predicting and managing the impacts of human activities on biodiversity. The review of current practice suggests that the complexity of the task is underestimated and that new methodological approaches encompassing the entire landscape are needed. Spatial aspects of the assessment and the lack of information on scale-related issues are particular problems affecting the appropriate assessment of cumulative effects. In parallel with the development and establishment of EIA and SEA, spatial modelling is an expanding field in ecology and many derived applications could be suitable for the prediction and assessment of biodiversity-related impacts. The diversity of modelling methods suggests that a strategy is needed to identify prediction methods appropriate for EIA and SEA. The relevance and potential limitations of GIS-based species distribution and habitat models in predicting impacts on biodiversity were examined in three studies in the greater Stockholm area. Distinct approaches to habitat suitability modelling were compared from the perspective of environmental assessment needs and requirements. The results showed that model performance, validity and ultimate suitability for planning applications were strongly dependent on empirical data and expert knowledge. The methods allowed visual, qualitative and quantitative assessment of habitat loss, thus improving decision support for assessment of impacts on biodiversity. The proposed methods allowed areas of high ecological value and the surrounding landscape to be considered in the same assessment, thereby contributing to better integration of biodiversity issues in physical planning.