Methods and tools for addressing natural disturbance dynamics in conservation planning for wilderness areas


  • Shawn J. Leroux,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St John's, NL, Canada
    • Correspondence: Shawn J. Leroux, Department of Biology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 232 Elizabeth Ave, St John's, NL, A1B 3X9, Canada.


    Search for more papers by this author
    • Both authors contributed equally to this work.

  • Bronwyn Rayfield

    1. Department of Biology, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
    Search for more papers by this author
    • Both authors contributed equally to this work.



New conservation approaches that account for broad-scale ecological processes must underpin decisions about conservation planning in the world's remaining wilderness areas. Our goal is to make the relevant tools and methods that have been developed by conservation scientists accessible to conservation practitioners working towards wilderness preservation.


Wilderness areas, in particular the North American boreal region.


We describe prominent spatial tools from natural resource management, landscape ecology and conservation biology for incorporating natural disturbance dynamics into systematic conservation planning. Then, we identify emerging methods that combine and customize these types of tools to account for interacting ecological processes in wilderness conservation plans with a specific focus on conserving natural disturbances in the North American boreal region.


Two classes of tools are well suited to the task of conservation planning in dynamic landscapes: site-selection tools (e.g. Marxan and Zonation) and process-based modelling tools (e.g. CONSERV and LANDIS-II). Four methods for explicitly including natural disturbance dynamics into conservation plans emerge from the combination of these tools: spatial catalysts combined with site-selection tools, probability theory combined with site-selection tools, spatial simulation models and spatial simulation models combined with site-selection tools.

Main conclusions

Globally, there are few wilderness areas remaining; therefore, there is increasing impetus to effectively protect the world's remaining intact areas. Careful combinations of probabilistic models, such as Markov chain models, or spatial simulation tools, such as CONSERV and Spatially Explicit Landscape Event Simulator, with site-selection tools, such as Benchmark Builder and Marxan, are promising approaches for accounting for natural disturbance dynamics when land use planning in wilderness areas such as the North American boreal region. The protection of natural disturbance dynamics will play an increasingly important role in the long-term persistence of biodiversity in earth's remaining wilderness areas as ongoing anthropogenic disturbances and climate change imperil broad-scale ecological processes.