Habitat alteration, in the form of land-use development, is a leading cause of biodiversity loss in the U.S. and elsewhere. Although statutes in the U.S. may require consideration of biodiversity in local land-use planning and regulation, local governments lack the data, resources, and expertise to routinely consider biotic impacts that result from permitted land uses. We hypothesized that decision support systems could aid solution of this problem. We developed a pilot biodiversity expert systems tool (BEST) to test that hypothesis and learn what additional scientific and technological advancements are required for broad implementation of such a system. BEST uses data from the U.S. Geological Survey's Gap Analysis Program (GAP) and other data in a desktop GIS environment. The system provides predictions of conflict between proposed land uses and biotic elements and is intended for use at the start of the development review process. Key challenges were the development of categorization systems that relate named land-use types to ecological impacts, and relate sensitivities of biota to ecological impact levels. Although the advent of GAP and sophisticated desktop GIS make such a system feasible for broad implementation, considerable ongoing research is required to make the results of such a system scientifically sound, informative, and reliable for the regulatory process. We define a role for local government involvement in biodiversity impact assessment, the need for a biodiversity decision support system, the development of a prototype system, and scientific needs for broad implementation of a robust and reliable system.
Additional publication details
Assessing land-use impacts on biodiversity using an expert systems tool