University of Massachusetts Amherst

Conservation Assessment and Prioritization System

Conservation Assessment and Prioritization System

Applications – Overview

Designing Sustainable Landscapes


Designing Sustainable Landscapes (DSL) is a landscape conservation project applied to 13 states in the Northeastern United States. The purpose is to provide guidance for strategic habitat conservation by assessing ecological integrity and landscape capability for a suite of focal species across the landscape. Assessments are done for both the current landscape and potential future landscapes, as modified by models of urban growth, climate change, and sea level rise. Designing Sustainable Landscapes includes an assessment of ecological integrity (IEI) using the same approach as Massachusetts CAPS, though the landcover and other data sources differ.

The DSL project provides much of the basis of the conservation planning tools Nature’s Network ( and Connect the Connecticut (

Designing Sustainable Landscapes is a project of the Landscape Ecology Lab at the University of Massachusetts (Bradley Compton, Ethan Plunkett,  Joanna Grand, William DeLuca, and Scott Jackson, with significant contributions from Kevin McGarigal, Liz Willey, Andrew Milliken, and Scott Schwenk). It is supported primarily by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, North Atlantic-Appalachian Region, with additional support from the Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center (NECASC) and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. For more information, see

Regional ecosystem-based connectivity


New! ecoConnect, our model of ecosystem-based regional connectivity, maps paths of high connectivity for targeted systems, such as forests or wetlands. Connectivity is assessed across the entire Northeast at multiple scales. ecoConnect does not rely on predefined conservation targets, thus it works flexibly with various conservation strategies. ecoConnect informs conservationists working to reconnect the landscape in the Northeast.

ecoConnect is based on regional data used for the Designing Sustainable Landscapes Project, with a more detailed landcover map and different data sources than Massachusetts CAPS, but it is a useful companion, providing regional context for connectivity.

Critical Linkages Project

Critical Linkages is a set of comprehensive analyses of opportunities for restoring connectivity by upgrading or removing infrastructure. Initiated in 2010, with support from The Nature Conservancy, the initial phase assessed each road stream crossing and dam in Massachusetts for the potential to restore aquatic connectivity by upgrading culverts and removing dams. An additional analysis assessed road segments throughout the state potential improvements in connectivity to be gained by installing road passage structures. A second phase of the project assessed potential longer-distance improvements in regional connectivity improvements from installing road passage structures. The road-stream crossing and dam analyses have been updated regularly as new data become available, and have been applied to 13 states in the Northeast as part of Designing Sustainable Landscapes.

Wetlands Assessment and Monitoring Program

We are working with the MA Department of Environmental Protection, MA Office of Coast Zone Management and U.S. EPA to develop cost-effective tools and techniques for assessment and monitoring of wetland and aquatic ecosystems. Extensive field research is used to develop and test sophisticated landscape-based assessment models as part of the Conservation Assessment and Prioritization System (CAPS). The result of this work will be a comprehensive wetlands monitoring and assessment program for Massachusetts that will guide policy decisions and restoration efforts.

BioMap 2 and BioMap 3

biomapThe Massachusetts Department of Fish & Game’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program and The Nature Conservancy’s Massachusetts Program developed BioMap 2 (in 2010) and BioMap 3 (in 2022) to serve as guides for conservation decision-making to conserve and restore biodiversity in Massachusetts. A primary focus of the projects was to identify the most resistant and resilient ecosystems with capacity to support a broad range of species and the natural processes necessary to sustain biodiversity over time. Scientists from UMass Amherst worked with these organizations to perform custom CAPS analyses to assist in the identification of forest cores, wetland cores, clusters of vernal pools and undeveloped landscape blocks with the highest potential for maintaining ecological integrity over time.
BioMap 3 website
BioMap 3 technical report (not yet released)

Losing Ground

Mass Audubon Losing GroundIn preparing the fourth in its series of Losing Ground publications the Massachusetts Audubon Society partnered with UMass Amherst to evaluate the impact of land development on the state’s ecosystems. We used CAPS to assess ecological integrity retrospectively using land use/land cover data for 1971, 1985, 1999 and 2005 and computing the loss of Ecological Integrity (IEI) due to develop over that 34 year period.
Losing Ground: Beyond the Footprint | Fourth Edition

South Coast Rail Project

CAPS South Rail Project ReportCAPS was used to assess several alternative routes for the proposed South Coast Rail system in southeastern Massachusetts. A CAPS analysis was conducted for each of the proposed routes (Attleboro, Stoughton, and Stoughton-Whittenton) and compared to a base scenario representing current conditions. Versions of the Stoughton and Stoughton-Whittenton route were analyzed with and without a trestle through Hockomock Swamp. The difference between the IEI for a route scenario and the base IEI values provided an estimate of the loss in ecological integrity for each route. These differences are expressed graphically and in terms of IEI units. A sensitivity analysis was run to assess the effect of uncertainty in parameters.
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