Historical trends of ecosystem services in Canada, 1911-2011
Canadian landscapes have been transformed by a land-use history that often prioritized provisioning ecosystem services (ES), at the expense of regulating and cultural services. Although the latest scholarship acknowledges the importance of historical trends for understanding current ecosystem functioning, most ES studies are conducted over small areas and for short periods of time. This study analyzes a century of ecological dynamics (15 time steps from 1911-2011) at a national scale and county-level resolution (n=293 in 2011). Data from archival sources (Canadian Census of Agriculture, Natural Resources Canada Protected Areas data, and Parks Canada visitation records) were used to quantify twelve important ES. Historical county maps were used to standardize the data relative to the changes of boundaries though time, and to produce a series of maps of individual and bundled ES. Multivariate and spatial statistics were used to assess interactions among individual ES, and changes in the composition and distribution of bundles. Finally, these long-term dynamics were evaluated qualitatively, through the lens of an historian. The political climate and social attitudes towards management and conservation were narrated in order to interpret the quantitative trends, and to provide a more complete picture of ecological development during the 20thcentury.
The analysis revealed a trend towards the specialization of ES bundles over time, as well as a tendency to become increasingly spatially concentrated. Local environmental conditions (within ecozones) and socio-political factors were good predictors of the emergence and the spatial distribution of bundles, with the most economically valuable provisioning service defining the specialization, and outcompeting other provisioning services. Results suggest that administrative boundaries (counties and provinces) can have substantial influence on the ecosystem functioning within their jurisdiction. These political divisions produced different relative quantities of services compared to other administrations within the same ecozone, where the biophysical capacity for ES provisioning is comparable. By analyzing ES functioning across scales, we identified which boundaries, and which biophysical factors are most important for managing and predicting the vitality of different ES. The perspective provided by such a long history demonstrates the dynamism of ES in response to management decisions, and the interactions between multiple ES and socio-political variables. In the century covered by this project, Canadian landscapes declined in multifunctionalty, potentially indicating a corresponding decline in resilience. Our results provide an important contextualization of these changes historically, which can help to improve current and future management of multifunctional environments.