Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Environmental Studies (MES)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

D. Scott Slocombe

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


Understanding the complexity and ecological organization of protected area ecosystems, and their bioregional surroundings, is fundamental to maintaining their integrity. This research set out to integrate the bodies of systems and hierarchy theory to establish a framework for developing a conceptual model that would synthesize knowledge from diverse fields and identify key system processes, thereby providing new insight into ecosystem organization, function, and integrity. This understanding was then applied to planning for ecological integrity in the Canadian National Parks context through a case study of Kluane National Park and Reserve (KNP&R) within the Greater Kluane Region (GKR). The methodology characterized processes, identified those that were key, and then explored their interrelationships and potential pathways to system change. A set of criteria, derived from complex systems and hierarchy theory, were developed to characterize the conceptual type and scale of system processes, evaluate the relatedness of processes, and identify cross-scale linkages and their potential to induce significant system change. These criteria served as the basis for identifying key processes in the GKR. The panarchy model described by Gunderson and Holling (2002) was used as the basis for integrating the key biophysical processes, describing their role in system stability and resilience, and elucidating pathways to change in the GKR. The interaction and influence of regional socioeconomic activities within the model were then elucidated in order to assess the susceptibility of key biophysical processes to human influence. The case of the GKR illustrates the value and potential for wider application of a conceptual modeling approach to investigate and describe ecological organization and integrity. Results indicate that ecological integrity planning would benefit by focusing on the dynamics of processes with cross-scale influence and employing keystones species as the tangible points of articulation between processes, perspectives, and scales. In the GKR those biophysical processes with the greatest potential to induce significant cascading change are fire, insect infestations, flora and fauna population cycling, flooding, and mass movements, while key socioeconomic processes include recreational activities, climate change, fire management, forestry, mining and wildlife management. This research suggests such a model may serve as a synthetic and adaptive knowledge base for integrating new knowledge to support ecological integrity planning. The process of model building effectively identified gaps in knowledge while the hierarchical approach facilitates the prioritization of a research agenda. The integrative model elucidated key self-organizing processes thereby providing direction for protocol selection in monitoring and cumulative effects assessment. The understanding of system function engendered by the model will likely enhance the interpretation of results. The heuristic process of developing region-specific conceptual models may help to foster the culture of learning in Parks Canada that is vital to understanding and managing for ecological integrity. It is an understanding of change, its origin, and process pathways of effects that should pervade planning and management for ecological integrity.

Convocation Year


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