Research: Conservation in heavily urbanized biodiverse regions requires urgent management action and attention to governance

A new study shows that the survival of 102 species at risk is possible, but co-governance focussed on conservation outcomes is key.

The Fraser River estuary, which once supported Canada’s  largest wild salmon runs, is now home to over half of British Columbia’s human population. With this comes growing urban centers, new infrastructure projects, and further habitat loss. Despite the stress this puts on the estuary’s many species at risk, there is no overarching conservation management plan for the area.

A new open access research paper led by Dr. Tara Martin at the UBC Conservation Decisions Lab applied a novel conservation decision making tool called Priority Threat Management to identify the most cost-effective management strategies needed to address the threats facing 102 species at risk identified in the area. 

The study found that a business-as-usual approach will likely result in the loss of two-thirds of these species. However, a combination of conservation strategies, at a cost of $381 million, or $15 million a year, would give these species more than a 50% chance of survival. 

Importantly, co‐governance — in which First Nations and other governments work together to oversee and implement conservation measures — was found to be a key part of ensuring that species have the highest possible chance of survival.

“While industrial projects such as the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 expansion could cost more than $2 billion, this research indicates that for one-tenth of that cost we have a good chance of saving more than 100 species and preserving the economy these species support,” said Misty MacDuffee, biologist and Wild Salmon Program Director, Raincoast Conservation Foundation.


Kehoe, L.J., J. Lund, L. Chalifour, Y. Asadian, E. Balke, S. Boyd, D. Carlson, J. M. Casey, B. Connors, N. Cryer, M. C. Drever, S. Hinch, C. Levings, M. MacDuffee, H. McGregor, J. Richardson, D.C. Scott, D. Stewart, R.G. Vennesland, C.E. Wilkinson, P. Zevit, J.K. Baum and T.G. Martin. 2020. Conservation in heavily urbanized biodiverse regions requires urgent management action and attention to governance. Conservation Science and Practice. 2020;e310.

Conservation Decision Lab at UBC

The Conservation Decision Lab is led by Dr. Tara Martin and comprises a team of post-docs and graduate students pioneering the development of methods to predict impacts of cumulative effects on biodiversity and transform these predictions into decisions to inform what actions to take, when and where to recover and conserve biodiversity.


Throughout history, humans have settled in areas of high biodiversity. Today these areas are home to our biggest urban centers with biodiversity at increasing risk from escalating cumulative threats. Identifying the management strategies to conserve species within such regions, and ensuring effective governance to oversee their implementation, presents enormous challenges. Using a novel Priority Threat Management (PTM) approach that calculates the cost‐effectiveness of conservation action and co‐governance, we discover that the 102 species at risk of local extinction within Canada’s most diverse, heavily urbanized coastal region, the Fraser River estuary, require urgent investment in management strategies costing an estimated CAD$381 M over 25 years. Our study also suggests that co‐governance underpins conservation success in urban areas, by increasing the feasibility of management strategies. This study underscores that biodiversity conservation in heavily urbanized areas is not a lost cause but does require strategic planning, attention to governance, and large‐scale investment.

Graphical abstract

Priority threat management infographic: 102 species are at risk of extinction in the Fraser River Estuary.
Art for this graphic by Kate Campbell.

Select figures

Figure one from research showing the relative risks of extinction of species with and without co-governance.
Probability of persistence for each of 13 species groups under increasing levels of investment over 25 years. Baseline (dark blue) represents species persistence probabilities under no additional management; management (Mgmt. ‐ light blue) represents implementing all management strategies; co‐governance (Co‐Gov ‐ green) represents the implementation of an overarching co‐governance strategy. Under full management and co‐governance, 10 of 13 species groups (96 of 102 species; black species silhouettes) reach a 60% probability of persistence. Species groups are ordered from lowest to highest probability of persistence under baseline scenario.

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