Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute (MTRI) : Institut de recherche du Mersey Tobeatic

Southwest Nova Scotia Habitat Conservation Strategy


MTRI is a non-profit co-operative with a mandate to promote sustainable use of natural resources and biodiversity conservation in the Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve and beyond through research, education, and the operation of a field station.

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Southwest Nova Scotia Habitat Conservation Strategy

MTRI, in collaboration with member organizations of the Nova Scotia Eastern Habitat Joint Venture and partner conservation groups, has developed a Habitat Conservation Strategy for Southwest Nova Scotia (SWNS). These strategies are intended to respond to a need to better communicate, coordinate, and inform conservation actions and decision-making by regional and local conservation organizations, to highlight opportunities for collaboration, and to identify current gaps in our collective actions to conservation priority ecosystems and species in the region. The strategy is part of a series being developed by Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners to cover each of the bioregions across Nova Scotia, and the rest of the Maritime provinces.




Project Objectives


The SWNS bioregion is bounded by nine provincially-defined primary watersheds, encompassing the entire area of the UNESCO Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve. Watersheds are widely recognized as an important planning and management unit, providing the opportunity to address broad-scale threats occurring in the upper reaches of watersheds that may have significant impacts on the lower reaches of those watersheds, including coastal and marine targets. They are also recognized as an important ecological unit for the management and recovery of a number of regional species at risk (e.g., Atlantic Coastal Plain Flora, Blanding’s Turtle).

The Southwest Nova Scotia (SWNS) bioregion contains a diverse and extensive complex of rugged coastline, protected bays and estuaries, coastal islands, a network of freshwater lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands, fertile valleys, extensive coastal and inland barrens, and vast stretches of Acadian Forest. The area of the SWNS bioregion is 16,182 km2 (29.3% of the Nova Scotia). The coastline of the bioregion is 2,813 km long and is irregular and indented with numerous bays and inlets, and abundantly scattered with coastal islands. 

Strategy Development Process

While the research, writing, and analysis was conducted by MTRI staff, the strategy was developed through collaborative partnership with regional government and non-government conservation organizations. 

Conservation priority species are objectively defined as:

Due to its unique geological and climatic history, as well as its southerly position in peninsular Nova Scotia, the SWNS bioregion hosts a number of peripheral and disjunct populations of temperate flora and fauna, including a number of Nova Scotia’s rarest species. Consequently, the region contains a high concentration of federally assessed and provincially listed species at risk. A summary of the species at risk and BCR 14 NS and MBU 11 NS priority bird species is available here. The full list of 354 conservation priority species with associated conservation status, source of occurrence data, and habitat associations can be found here.

Conservation Priority Habitats

Central to the Habitat Conservation Strategy was the identification of coarse-scale conservation priority habitat types that encompass the most significant elements of conservation concern within the SWNS bioregion. Based on habitat affinities of priority species the following nine habitat types were determined to be conservation priorities for the SWNS bioregion through expert knowledge and consensus. For each of the conservation priority habitats below a linked summary provides a brief description, highlighting significant nested conservation priority species, an assessment of their ecological integrity based on their landscape context, condition, and size to provide an overall impression of their condition and conservation status in the bioregion, and current and emerging threats within the bioregion.


Threats that may impact the ecological integrity of the conservation priority habitats and their nested priority species were identified for the bioregion and assessed for each priority habitat based on their scope, severity, and irreversibility.

Twelve medium to high level threats to priority habitats within the bioregion were identified: 1) Cottage and Residential Development; 2) Incompatible Agricultural Practices; 3) Marine and Shellfish Aquaculture; 4) Forest Harvesting Practices; 5) Recreational Beach Use; 6) Road Fragmentation; 7) Invasive European Green Crab; 8) Problematic Native Species; 9) Agricultural and Forestry Effluents; 10) Air Pollution and Acid Precipitation; 11) Sea-level Rise; 12) Storm-induced Coastal Erosion.

A summary presents threats for the bioregion, their ranks, and the top ranked threats for BCR 14 NS and MBU 11 NS priority bird species.

Spatial Prioritization Analyses

As part of this Habitat Conservation Strategy, a series of GIS-based mapping approaches to landscape prioritization were developed with partners to identify areas within the SWNS bioregion that have high conservation value. The goal was to achieve the best possible impact of our collective conservation efforts in those areas that are the most important for conservation priority habitats and species. 

The various spatial prioritizations can present contrasting perspectives on spatial priorities, and reflects the reality that contrasting approaches to prioritization may be required for the conservation of different species, species’ assemblages and habitats, as well as varying approaches to conservation (i.e., land acquisition versus stewardship). No single map can provide decision support that fully aligns with the priorities of all conservation partners; therefore, users of this and other HCSs are encouraged to carefully consider the full suite of maps and information presented to obtain the decision support that is most appropriate for their needs.

Data on priority habitats, significant species and current threats were gathered from existing provincial, Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre, and Maritime Breeding Bird Atlas databases, published literature, and expert knowledge.

Priority Habitat Composite

The prupose of the priority habitat composite below was to identify areas within the bioregion that have conservation value based on attributes of individual habitat patches independent of species occurrence data. Scores making up the priority habitat composite include consideration of the uniqueness, representivity, and size of individual patches of priority habitat types. A detailed description of the methodology used can be found in Appendix E of the final report.

Priority Species Composite

Methodologies were developed to map the likelihood of occurrence of priority species within the bioregion. The series of species composites consist of kernel density estimations of the likelihood of occurrence of various priority species assemblages based on existing species occurrence data (example below). Consideration of the various species composites provides the reader with a better sense of the species and data sources that drive certain map outputs, and better enables the reader to consult the underlying data that are most appropriate to their question of interest. A detailed description of the methodology used can be found in Appendix F of the final report.

Conservation Value Index

The integration of the priority habitat composite and the priority species composite for the full list of priority species results in the Conservation Value Index (CVI) for the bioregion below. This map was developed to identify sites within the SWNS bioregion that have the highest conservation value in terms of priority habitat attributes and priority species, given the available data. A detailed description of the methodology used can be found in Appendix G of the final report.

Conservation Actions

In the final section of the Habitat Conservation Strategy the current and planned conservation and stewardship actions that organizations plan to undertake to mitigate the identified threats and contribute to the conservation of priority habitats and species over the course of a five-year planning period are presented. In addition to presenting avenues for collaboration, the conservation actions table may highlight gaps that can be interpreted as potential opportunities for development of new complementary conservation actions. 


Please click on the image below to view the final report.