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Time To Get Use To A New Acronym – Key Biodiversity Areas or KBAs
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Time To Get Use To A New Acronym – Key Biodiversity Areas or KBAs

[caption id="attachment_21694" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Ted Cheskey Ted Cheskey
Senior Conservation Manager[/caption] Get ready Canada for a new site-based conservation tool. Nature Canada is thrilled to be part of the leading edge of groups charged with introducing Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) to Canada.  Building on Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), which are about birds if you weren’t sure, KBA covers all visible forms of biodiversity from mammals to millipedes. Identifying and protecting them will contribute significantly to the global persistence of biodiversity, just as IBA protection is helping birds. KBAs are identified by applying the criteria and thresholds included in the “A Global Standard for the Identification of Key Biodiversity Areas” approved by the Council of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in April 2016. This standard applies to all levels of biodiversity (genetic, species and ecosystems). There are 11 criteria grouped under five categories:

  1. Threatened biodiversity;
  2. Geographically restricted biodiversity;
  3. Ecological integrity;
  4. Biological processes; and
  5. Irreplaceability through quantitative analysis.
The Standard and its criteria were developed through extensive consultation and build on four decades of experience in identifying sites of biodiversity importance including IBAs identified by BirdLife International, as well as efforts to identify Important Plant Areas, Alliance for Zero Extinction sites, KBAs under previous criteria and related approaches. KBAs are not legally protected areas though. They are much like IBAs in this respect. They do, however, provide a strong biological basis for protection–something that Nature Canada will be mobilizing its partners and supporters to help ensure. [one_half] [caption id="attachment_35690" align="alignnone" width="460"]Image of Red Knots Red Knots, photo by Ted Cheskey[/caption] [/one_half] [one_half_last] [caption id="attachment_35691" align="alignnone" width="460"]Image of bird watchers on Charlton Island Garry and Marc-Antoine on Charlton Island[/caption] [/one_half_last] KBAs were introduced to Canada during a workshop led by the IUCN and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) that was associated with the annual meeting of the Canadian Council on Ecological Areas (CCEA) in Quebec this past fall. Emerging from that meeting was a National Coordination Group (NCG) for KBAs and the elements of a plan to introduce and implement a KBA program in Canada. Nature Canada and Bird Studies Canada (BSC), as Canada’s official BirdLife Partners, with over 20 years of developing and implementing IBAs in Canada, are on the National Coordination Group for the Initiative. One of the first steps in the KBA process will be determining which IBAs satisfy the KBA criteria.   BSC is currently conducting that assessment, but at a crude scale, most of the IBAS in Canada that are “globally significant” (e.g. one percent or more of the global population of a species) will become KBAs. IBAs will not disappear, but some will gain the additional status of KBA. The federal government is very interested in supporting the KBA initiative, given the strong potential for KBAs to add value to its Pathway to Target One initiative to protect at least 17% of Canada’s lands and inland waters and at least 10% of its marine and coastal territories. Nature Canada is ready to engage its Nature Network, consisting of provincial and local partners, in the KBA initiative. Local naturalists are one of the best sources of knowledge on species occurrence and abundance. We believe that the naturalist community has tremendous knowledge to contribute to identifying and monitoring potential KBAs. We are also counting on local support to help secure legal protection for these areas. Stay tuned for more on KBAs!
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Key Biodiversity Areas: What they are and why we care
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Key Biodiversity Areas: What they are and why we care

[caption id="attachment_21694" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Ted Cheskey Ted Cheskey
Senior Conservation Manager[/caption] For more than 30 years, organizations around the world have been developing standards to identify ecologically significant sites using quantitative and qualitative methods. In 2004, the IUCN Membership made a request for an international standard to identify important sites. Subsequently, the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSN) and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) formed a Joint Task Force on Biodiversity and Protected Areas to start work on establishing the criteria for Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). More than 10 years later, these standards are finally coming together. But what are KBAs? And what makes them different from other site identification standards?

KBAs defined

KBAs are “sites that contribute to the global persistence of biodiversity.” This means they are sites that are representative and significant, in one way or another, of the wide array of ecosystems, creatures and species found around the world. The KBA designation covers areas important in terms of animal species, but also extends to areas significant for their plant life or their life-sustaining environment. To be a KBA, sites must meet one of 11 criteria – determined through an evaluation process based on empirical data and carefully laid out methodology. Each criterion has determining thresholds and they are split into five groups as follows: [one_third] Image of a whooping crane [/one_third] [two_third_last]
  1. Threatened biodiversity
    1. Threatened species
    2. Threatened ecosystem type
  2. Geographically restricted biodiversity
    1. Individual geographic restricted species
    2. Co-occurring geographically restricted species
    3. Geographically restricted assemblages
    4. Geographically restricted ecosystem types
  3. Ecological integrity
  4. Biological processes
  5. Irreplaceability[/two_third_last]

How KBAs are different from IBAs and other important sites

Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) are one of the many types of important area designations the KBA methodology is built on. IBAs are a conservation initiative coordinated by BirdLife International. To date, there are over 12,000 IBAs worldwide and nearly 600 sites in Canada. The key difference between initiatives like IBAs and KBAs is in the focus. Where designations such as IBAs have had a narrow focus (in the case of IBAs: birds), KBAs are less restrictive. While BirdLife recognizes that healthy bird diversity is often indicative of healthy overall biodiversity (hence the “and Biodiversity” addendum to the name in 2013), the criteria for IBAs – globally threatened species, restricted-range species, biome-restricted species and congregations – are bird-centric and therefore defined in terms of occurring bird populations. What KBAs seek to do, in a sense, is combine these various initiatives into one designation, creating a global database of important sites that encompass a wide range of biodiversity factors. For example, many IBAs can be rolled into KBAs in the next years. That said, it will be a while before designations like IBA are done away with entirely. canada-1362451_1920

Why KBAs are important

You might be wondering what the purpose of such designations is. After all, they serve to identify important sites but they don’t offer them any protection. At its core, the answer is simple: The first step to protecting a site is determining that it is worth protecting. The KBA designation serves as a quantitative and qualitative measure that the site is important. Not to mention, before a site can be designated, empirical data is compiled to back the nomination up. The bottom line is that the KBA designation helps direct research where it is most needed, and it creates a database of sites worth considering for protection along with the scientific data that speaks to this. KBAs are crucial because they help us as a global community identify important sites before we lose them. Nature Canada has a long and rich history of advocating for the protection of habitat and the expansion of the range of protected areas.  KBA will be another tool used in the fight for nature and the conservation of its biodiversity.
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