Climate change and modelled biome representation in Canada's national park system: implications for system planning and park mandates


  • The views/opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.

Daniel Scott, Adaptation and Impacts Research Group, Environment Canada, at the Faculty of Environmental Studies, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada, N2L 3G1. E-mail:


Aim  The study examined the potential for change in biome representation within Canada's national park system under multiple climate change scenarios and subsequent potential vulnerabilities in Parks Canada policy and planning frameworks.

Location  The study was conducted for Canada's 39 national parks.

Methods  The vegetation change scenarios were based on modelling results from the BIOME3 and MAPSS equilibrium process-based global vegetation models (GVM), run with multiple doubled-CO2 climate change scenarios. The six vegetation distribution scenarios were calculated at 0.5° latitude–longitude resolution and the boundaries of 39 national parks superimposed in a geographic information system (GIS). Park management plans and other planning documents were also reviewed as part of the analysis.

Results  The proportional distribution of biomes in Canada's national park system was very similar (within 3% of area for each biome) using BIOME3 and MAPSS under the current climate. Regardless of the GVM and climate change scenario used, the modelling results suggest the potential for substantial change in the biome representation in Canada's national park system. In five of six vegetation scenarios, a novel biome type appeared in more than half of the national parks and greater than 50% of all vegetation grid boxes changed biome type. The proportional representation of tundra and taiga/tundra in the national park system declined in each of the vegetation scenarios, while more southerly biomes (temperate forests and savanna/woodland) increased (in some scenarios doubling to quadrupling). Results for boreal forest varied among the climate change scenarios. A range of potential vulnerabilities in existing policy and planning frameworks were identified, including the national park system plan, individual park objectives, and fire and exotic species management plans.

Conclusions  Climate change represents an unprecedented challenge to Parks Canada and its ability to achieve its conservation mandate as presently legislated. Research is needed not only on ecosystem responses to climate change, but also on the capacity of conservation systems and agencies to adapt to climate change.