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DSL - Designing Sustainable Landscapes

DSL - Designing Sustainable Landscapes

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Year released/updated: 
March 2020

Provides data and assessments for strategic habitat conservation, by assessing the ecological integrity of ecosystems, evaluating regional connectivity, assessing risk of development, and modeling climate niche and landscape capability for key wildlife species in the Northeast.

Geographic scope: 

Access to, and familiarity with, GIS is required to explore downloaded data, as well as the capacity to work with large datasets.

Conservation phases: 
Forest conservation goals
Most suitable for: 
Also good for: 
Climate adaptation interests
Most suitable for: 
  • Current and future landscape capabilities for selected species
  • Potential climate change refugia
  • Regional connectivity of natural landscapes
  • Local terrestrial, wetland and aquatic connectedness
Additional details 

Beginning in 2000, the Landscape Ecology Lab at UMass Amherst has used landscape-scale modeling to produce data to support conservation decision-making. Since 2010, the lab has provided conservation planning data and products covering 13 states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, in a project called Designing Sustainable Landscapes (DSL). The DSL approach follows a logical sequence from data generation and compilation, to assessment and modeling, to conservation design. DSL models provide much of the content of Connect the Connecticut, and Nature’s Network, both developed in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state wildlife agencies, and conservation NGOs. DSL involves two major processes:

1. Characterization involves the compilation, correction, and generation of data for use in landscape modeling. Examples include the developed land uses, ecological communities, ecological settings variables, and climate data. These data are used as inputs for landscape assessments, although they can be useful on their own for conservation decision-making.

2. Assessment is the process of integrating data and using models to make landscape predictions. Examples include the use of CAPS (Conservation Assessment & Prioritization System) to assess the ecological integrity of ecological communities, an evaluation of regional connectivity, use of the SPRAWL model to assess risk of development, and the modeling of climate niche and landscape capability for representative wildlife species or species at risk. Incorporation of climate data into the models facilitates predictions of future ecological integrity, connectivity, landscape capability and potential habitat refugia.

The DSL data products likely to be most useful for land protection and stewardship are:

  • Regional CAPS Index of Ecological Integrity (IEI)

  • Conductance index (an measure of the importance of land for regional-scale connectivity)

  • Integrated probability of development

  • Focus species models

  • Conservation design elements from Nature’s Network

Some of the DSL data has been clipped to state boundaries.

Learn more about the terms used in this tool profile from the Glossary.