University of Massachusetts Amherst

Conservation Assessment and Prioritization System

Conservation Assessment and Prioritization System

The Conservation Assessment and Prioritization System (CAPS) is an ecosystem-based (coarse-filter) approach for assessing the ecological integrity of lands and waters and subsequently identifying and prioritizing land for habitat and biodiversity conservation. We define ecological integrity as the ability of an area to support biodiversity and the ecosystem processes necessary to sustain biodiversity over the long term. CAPS is a computer software program and an approach to prioritizing land for conservation based on the assessment of ecological integrity for various ecological communities (e.g., forest, shrub swamp, headwater stream) within an area.

CAPS combines principles of landscape ecology and conservation biology with the capacity of modern computers to compile spatial data and characterize landscape patterns. This process results in a final Index of Ecological Integrity (IEI) for each point in the landscape based on models constructed separately for each ecological community.

Statewide IEI
Index of ecological integrity (IEI) for Massachusetts. Darker areas denote higher IEI values; white areas are developed land.

Our approach is landscape-oriented and focused on a comprehensive valuation of the entire landscape. It attempts to combine many complex spatial relationships in the landscape that drive ecological processes, including population persistence and community dynamics. The CAPS approach seeks to evaluate the ecological integrity of the entire landscape mosaic, not just the rare species and community locations. We assume that by conserving intact, ecologically-defined communities of high integrity, we can conserve most species and the ecological processes that shape and maintain ecosystems over time.