University of Washington

Land Facets for Conservation Planning

Future climate change will cause species to shift their distributions across, likely forming new communities and ecosystems. Until recently, conservation planning has largely focused on identifying areas that protect current patterns of biodiversity. Although these areas may provide protection for today’s biodiversity, they may not provide adequate protection for biodiversity in a future world that looks very different from that of today.

One potentially promising strategy for protecting biodiversity in a changing climate is to protect the diversity of the geophysical landscape that influences patterns of biodiversity. Species distributions, communities, ecosystems, and broader patterns of biodiversity are influenced by landscape characteristics such as soils, geology, topography, and climate. Although climates will change relatively rapidly over the coming century, soils, geology, and topography will not. By protecting a diversity of geophysical landscape components (referred to here as land facets), it may be possible to protect areas that will foster a diversity of biota in the future —albeit different biota than those areas harbor today.

Although the idea of using landscape diversity as a proxy for biodiversity is not new, it has only recently been applied to address conservation problems under a changing climate. Thus, the method has not been tested on a wide diversity of landscapes, nor do we know how well currently protected areas already protect land facets. Here we address these questions by identifying and mapping land facets across three ecoregions in the Pacific Northwestern United States. We describe the sensitivity of the facets to methodological and data choices, evaluate how well land facets are represented in current protected areas, use these land facets to prioritize areas for conservation, and evaluate how well these conservation areas can capture current biodiversity. The final step in the project (currently underway) is to use the answers to the various questions listed above to select one or more approaches to defining facets use that approach to generate land facets for 14 ecoregions across the Pacific Northwest.


  1. Test the sensitivity of land-facet delineation to: a) the method used, b) the variables used, c) the spatial resolution of the data used, and d) how the data are normalized.
  2. Assess the degree to which the land can act as a surrogate for current patterns of biodiversity.
  3. Determine how well land facets are represented in current protected areas and current conservation priority areas.
  4. Using the most applicable land-facet approach, define facets for 14 ecoregions in the Pacific Northwest.

Geographic Location

Pacific Northwestern United States

Principal Investigator

Joshua Lawler

Ecosystem Type


Framework focus