Peer Reviewed Publications

Year Title (Author, Description) File Download

ALCES Online: Web-delivered scenario analysis to inform sustainable land-use decisions

Carlson, M., B. Stelfox, N. Purves-Smith, J. Straker, S. Berryman, T. Barker, B. Wilson

ALCES Online: Web-delivered scenario analysis to inform sustainable land-use decisions. In: D.P. Ames, N.W.T. Quinn and A.E. Rizzoli (Eds.). Proceedings of the 7th International Congress on Environmental Modelling and Software. June 2014, San Diego, California. Simulation models are yet to reach their potential to inform environmental sustainability, in part due to inaccessibility. ALCES Online ( addresses this deficiency through web-delivery of high quality scenario analysis to individuals lacking a modeling background. The underlying scenario analysis is holistic through incorporation of a diverse set of drivers and indicators. Simulated land uses include energy, agriculture, mining, forestry, and human settlements; natural drivers such as fire are also included. Environmental and socioeconomic consequences are conveyed by tracking indicators related to landscape composition, wildlife, ecosystem services, and the economy. Dynamics are simulated spatially, and indicator performance presented using maps and regional summaries. Simulations span three time periods: pre-industrial, past century, and next 50 years. The pre-industrial phase informs baselines from which to assess land-use impacts. Simulation of the past century reconstructs changes caused by historical land use, thereby demonstrating capacity for land use to alter ecosystems over meaningful time. A range of future (50 year) simulations allow the user to assess potential consequences of decisions related to development rate, management practices, and ecosystem protection. To facilitate application across diverse initiatives, ALCES Online is customizable through user-defined study areas, indicators, and land-use strategies.

Carlson et al 2014.pdf

Supplementary Methods for The Future of Wildlife Conservation and Resource Development in the Western Boreal Forest: A technical report on cumulative effects modeling of future land use scenarios

Matt Carlson and David Browne

Supplementary methods for the scenario analysis presented in the report "The Future of Wildlife Conservation and Resource Development in the Western Boreal Forest: A technical report on cumulative effects modeling of future land use scenarios"


Modelling regional futures at decadal scale: application to the Kimberley region

Fabio Boschetti, Hector Lozano-Montes, J. Brad Stelfox

We address the question of how to provide meaningful scientific information to support environmental decision making at the regional scale and at the temporal scale of several decades. Our application is the management of a network of marine parks in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, where the key challenges to environmental sustainability are slow-dynamics climate change processes and one-off investments in large infrastructure, which can affect the future of a region for decades to come. In this situation, strategic, rather than reactive planning is necessary and thus standard adaptive management approaches may not be effective. Prediction becomes more urgent than adaptation, in terms of assessing the long term consequence of specific economic and conservation decisions. Working at the interface between future studies, socio-economic modelling and environmental modelling, we define 18 scenarios of economic development and climate change impacts and 5 management strategies aimed at ensuring the sustainability of the marine environment. We explore these potential future trajectories using coupled models of terrestrial land use and marine ecosystem dynamics. The Alces model simulates the dynamics of bio-physical and socio-economic processes on land and the pressures these impose on the coastal and marine environment. This forces an Ecopath with Ecosim (EwE) model used to simulate marine processes, foodweb dynamics and human activities in the marine environment. We obtain a projection of the Kimberley marine system to the year 2050, conditional on the chosen scenarios and management strategies, which is compatible with the best available knowledge of the current system state (as codified in the models’ input) and system functioning (as represented in the models’ dynamics). Our results suggest that climate change, not economic development, is the largest factor affecting the future of marine ecosystems in the Kimberley region, with sedentary species such as reef fish at greatest risk. These same species also benefit most from more stringent management strategies, especially expansion of sanctuary zones and Marine Protected Areas.

Modelling regional futures at decadal scale.pdf

Exploring Cumulative Effects of Regional Urban Growth Strategies: A Planning Scenario Case Study from the Calgary Region of Western Canada

Carlson, M., J. Quinn, and B. Stelfox.

Exploring Cumulative Effects of Regional Urban Growth Strategies: A Planning Scenario Case Study from the Calgary Region of Western Canada. International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP) Review 11. The article describes the use of the ALCES land-use simulation model to estimate the impacts likely to result from the next 50 years of population growth in the Calgary metropolitan area. The analysis compares the consequences of continued reliance on low density suburban development with a proposed regional plan that incorporates densification. The article was published in the 50th anniversary edition of the ISOCARP (International Society of City and Regional Planners) Review titled “Reinventing Planning: Examples for the Profession”.

ISOCARP article.pdf

Application of Land-Use Simulation to Protected Area Selection for Efficient Avoidance of Biodiversity Loss in Canada's Western Boreal Region

Matt Carlson, David Browne, and Carolyn Callaghan

M. Carlson, D. Browne, and C. Callaghan. 2019. Application of land-use simulation to protected area selection for efficient avoidance of biodiversity loss in Canada's western boreal region. Land Use Policy 82:821-831. Abstract: Avoided ecological loss is an appropriate measure of conservation effectiveness, but challenging to measure because it requires consideration of counterfactual conditions. Land-use simulation is a well suited but underutilized tool in this regard. As a case study for the application of land-use simulation to assess the impact of protected areas, we present a scenario analysis exploring conservation options in Canada’s western boreal forest. The cumulative effect of multiple natural resource sectors, including oil and gas, forestry, and agriculture, have substantially altered the region’s ecosystems in recent decades and elevated risk to wildlife. The evolving state of the region is such that managing risks to biodiversity requires consideration of not only today’s but also tomorrow’s conditions. We simulated the long-term (50-year) outcomes of land use and protection to caribou, fisher, fish, and resource production in each of 104 watersheds in the 693,345 km2 study area. Simulated land use caused increased risk to wildlife in response to northwards expansion of resource extraction and expansion of agricultural lands. For each watershed, indicator performance with and without protection were compared to calculate the benefit (avoided ecological loss) and cost (lost opportunity for resource production) of protection. The capacity for protected areas to avoid disturbance varied substantially across watersheds, as did the potential loss of economic opportunity. Focusing protection on cost-effective watersheds made protected area expansion a more efficient strategy for reducing wildlife risk than reducing the overall rate of natural resource production. Heterogeneity in the cost-effectiveness of protection presents an opportunity to balance ecological integrity and economic growth.


Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts: Towards Integrated Natural Resource Management in Canada

Cassie J. Doyle, Fikret Berkes, Stan Boutin, Matthew Carlson, Thomas Dietz, George Greene, et al.

Natural Resources Canada asked the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) to undertake an assessment on the state of knowledge and practice of integrated approaches to natural resource management in Canada. To address the question, the CCA convened a multidisciplinary panel of 13 experts from Canada and abroad. Panel members brought expertise related to biology, ecology, economics, human geography, geoscience, law, natural resource management and development, public administration, sociology, and traditional knowledge. The Panel highlighted the importance of considering multiple ways of knowing in INRM, including Indigenous and local knowledge. Although several forms of governance can apply to INRM, all models benefit from the involvement of all actors to participate in natural resource management decision-making. The Panel found that integration is needed to address current realities, and overcome the limitations of conventional approaches which focus on managing individual activities and resources. INRM calls for higher-order decision-making that embraces land-use planning and strategic assessment at regional scales, enabling better and more efficient decision-making at project-specific stages. The report details eight defining characteristics of INRM that can serve as a guide to implementation. It does not call for a complete overhaul of current resource management practices, but notes that there is sufficient knowledge and established tools to start supporting these integrated processes now.


Does Expected Future Landscape Condition Support Proposed Population Objectives for Boreal Birds?

L. Mahon, E. Bayne, P. Solymos, S. Matsuoka, M. Carlson, E. Dzus, F. Schmiegelow, S. Song

L. Mahon et al. 2014. Does expected future landscape condition support proposed population objectives for boreal birds? Forest Ecology and Management 312:28-39. Abstract: Assessing the feasibility of proposed Bird Conservation Region (BCR) population objectives requires comparing expected future population size estimates to proposed population objectives. Linking statistical bird habitat models with landscape simulation models can provide a direct method for assessing the ecological and economic implications of alternative land and resource scenarios within a BCR or BCR subregion. We demonstrate our approach for analyses of future habitat supply and population size for a suite of priority landbird species using the ALCES landscape simulation model and empirical bird habitat models within a multi-use landscape located in northeast Alberta, Canada and BCR 6-Boreal Taiga Plains. We used ALCES to simulate future landscape condition over a 100 year time period under three scenarios: business as usual, protected areas, and climate change. Shortfalls between simulated population size estimates at year 30 and proposed population objectives existed for each of the four priority bird species examined suggesting that expected future landscape condition will not support proposed population objectives for these species. Boreal species strongly associated with mature and old forest habitats exhibited population declines over the 100 year simulation period. One habitat generalist, a species associated with both early and late seral stages, appeared to benefit from the range of land use scenarios examined. Our approach improves upon current static approaches used to step down BCR scale population objectives to sub-regional scale habitat objectives by utilizing statistical bird population response models to estimate density and a dynamic landscape simulation model to estimate expected future habitat condition.

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