Please enable JavaScript in your browser
Home | Site Map | FAQ | Contact Us
Frequently Asked Questions

    Element Occurrences and Species Ranking

  1. What is an Element?
  2. What is an Element Occurrence (EO)?
  3. What constitutes an Element Occurrence (EO) for a given species?
  4. Why is there a variety in the shape and size of mapped Element Occurrences?
  5. What is an uncertainty distance or locational uncertainty?
  6. Why separate Element Occurrences (EOs) by suitable/unsuitable habitat?
  7. What are species ranks and how are species ranked by the SKCDC?
  8. How frequently are the subnational ranks (S-Ranks) reviewed?
  9. Why do species names and taxonomy change?
  10. Submitting Data and What We Do With It

  11. How can I submit data to the SKCDC?
  12. What kinds of observations does the SKCDC want?
  13. Where does my submitted data go?
  14. How is my data used?
  15. What is sensitive data?
  16. Why is data sensitive?
  17. Why is there a backlog?
  18. How accurate is SKCDC's data?
  19. What is the source of SKCDC's data?
  20. HABISask

  21. How do I get a login account for HABISask?
  22. What do the circles and polygons on the map mean?
  23. Can I access the SKCDC's data outside of HABISask?

    Element Occurrences and Species Ranking
  1. What is an Element?

  2. The Nature Conservancy coined this term in the United States. An element is a unit of natural biological diversity. Elements represent species (or infra-specific taxa), natural communities, or other non-taxonomic biological entities (e.g. migratory species aggregation areas, bat hibernacula).

    Back to Top
  3. What is an Element Occurrence (EO)?

  4. An Element Occurrence (EO) is an area of land and/or water in which an Element is, or was, present. Each Element Occurrence is a feature with some conservation significance. The SKCDC stores information on EOs in a database and this information is available through HABISask, an online mapping application.

    Back to Top
  5. What constitutes an Element Occurrence (EO) for a given species?

  6. One can consider an occurrence as being analogous to a population: more or less a group of non-regularly-interbreeding individuals of a species in a particular geographic area. In reality, scientists are almost never able to define a population (for reasons including unknown dispersal distances, breeding patterns, etc.), so the term occurrence is used instead of population.

    With largely immobile plants (though we have to consider propagule dispersal), we typically use a distance of 1.6 km to separate occurrences. With mobile animals it is much more difficult, and cannot even be defined by group (e.g. the definition of an EO for Prothonotary Warbler is going to be very different from that of a Bald Eagle).

    For many species (particularly those that are rare range-wide) the definition of an occurrence is defined globally by The Nature Conservancy (this function now assumed by NatureServe) so that all Data Centres define an occurrence for the same species in the same way. For species that don't yet have globally defined element occurrence specifications, biologists at the SKCDC use their own and other's expertise (often based on similar species which have defined global specifications) to determine occurrence specifications.

    View an overview of the Element Occurrence Data Standard at

    Back to Top
  7. Why is there a variety in the shape and size of mapped Element Occurrences?

  8. The observation location of every species can be, and usually is, different. This is a function of habitat preference, locational uncertainty, survey technique and the observer. If you are a fish it’s likely you’ll be living in water, if you’re a bird you may live in a tree. If you are a prairie dog you will live in a colony covering a much larger area than if you were swift fox living in a den. When compared against the basemaps we use, these observations can be simple points, polygons or linear features. As well multiple source features may make up one EO which in turn allows for yet another shape.

    Back to Top
  9. What is an uncertainty distance or locational uncertainty?

  10. Observational data contains varying levels of imprecision. Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers may vary from mere centimeters up to 5 to 10m depending on quality. Prior to GPS, locational uncertainty was even higher. Locations may have been made to the quarter-section but they may also have been to the nearest landmark. This level of spatial uncertainty is captured in the boundaries reflected in our Element Occurrences. The locational uncertainty is intended to be the smallest possible area that captures the initial observation based on the information provided to the SKCDC.

    Back to Top
  11. Why separate Element Occurrences (EOs) by suitable/unsuitable habitat?

  12. Separating EO’s by suitable/unsuitable habitat is necessary to delineate demographically and genetically discrete occurrences or populations. Many species distribution characteristics are predictable but some are not. Regardless of data available on any given species there is no single correct way, but instead a variety of factors considered to properly separate populations. Factors include: spatial and temporal patterns of distribution, home range sizes, dispersal characteristics, preferred and available community and habitat types and anthropological barriers.

    View NatureServe's separation distances by species at

    Back to Top
  13. What are species rankings and how are they ranked by the SKCDC?

  14. The subnational or S-rank is used to categorize a taxon by its risk of extirpation. Ranks are calculated following a standardized procedure set out by NatureServe, taking into account not only rarity, but also trends and threats. Ranks range from an S1 to an S5, where an S1 is at a high risk of extirpation. See our ranking methodology section for more information.

    Back to Top
  15. How frequently are the subnational ranks (S-Ranks) reviewed?

  16. The SKCDC prioritizes taxa for ranking based on a five-year rotation. See our ranking methodology section for more information.

    Back to Top
  17. Why do species names and taxonomy change?

  18. The names and classifications given to Saskatchewan taxa are standardized in order for the SKCDC to be consistent with other jurisdictions. The SKCDC generally follows the standards set out by NatureServe, which lists standards for both animals and plants. It should be noted that while the convention for plants is currently Kartesz, NatureServe’s advisory committee has recently recommended using the Flora of North America as the standard for vascular and non-vascular plants at the genus and species level.

    Taxonomy is a dynamic, not a static, field, resulting in ever-shifting classifications and naming based on the best available information. Previously, classification was often the result of morphological, behavioral, or distributive study of taxa. As molecular research becomes more sophisticated and widespread, new and better information is emerging regarding the evolutionary relationships between taxa. Phylogenetic studies may show that a particular taxon should be its own distinct genus, that it should be lumped with an existing group, or that it is not a distinct species but rather a subspecies of an existing species. All of these situations result in a name change for the taxon in question, reflecting the best available information for its classification.

    Back to Top
    Submitting Data and What We Do With It
  19. How can I submit data to the SKCDC?

  20. Please refer to the "Submit Data" page of the SKCDC's website to find the appropriate loadform for filling out your wildlife observations. Data loadforms can be submitted by e-mail to Please note that if you have already submitted your data to the research permit office, it will be forwarded to the SKCDC.

    Back to Top
  21. What kinds of observations does the SKCDC want?

  22. CDC wants legitimate and accurate observations of any wild species. The more information submitted along with the observations the better.

    We need to know…

    • Who saw it? Who is the primary observer?
    • What species did you see? What was it doing? Regularly or irregularly occupying the area.
      *Regularly occupied: nest, den, staging area, feeding area.
      *Irregularly occupied: Foraging, in flight, crossing road, etc.
    • Where did you see it? Location can be submitted as UTM, Latitude/longitudes, sections, quarter sections or simply directions to where it was observed.
    • When did you see it?
    • Is this data sensitive?
    • What type of habitat was it observed in? Example: waterbody type, native grassland, plowed field, etc.

    Back to Top
  23. Where does my submitted data go?

  24. Submitted data is stored appropriately so the Zoologist or Botanist may access it as needed. All observation data, whether of a common or tracked species, will be imported into the SKCDC's observation database. All tracked species data will also be imported into the SKCDC's Biotics database, excluding data that has been marked "sensitive" such as for publication reasons. Biotics uses NatureServe's Natural Heritage methodology that enables users to standardize occurrences and in turn allows for authoritative data. We make our data available to the public through the CDC website in a variety of formats. The data available on the Ministry of Environment Interactive Mapping system is an ArcGIS service that provides a read-only access to our dataset.

    Back to Top
  25. How is my data used?

  26. The most common data provided to the Conservation Data Centre (CDC) is observational data. This data is used for a number of purposes: firstly, to inform the assessment of status (S Ranking, National General Status, COSEWIC); secondly, to map areas of conservation significance (Element Occurrences) to provide business intelligence to decision makers; and thirdly, in value added products such as range maps, atlases, lists and other projects.

    Where there are concerns for the security of the species or other limited reasons we can prevent the release of the direct observational information. Products which blur the location, such as ecoregional lists or range maps, would still be published with the information included.

    Back to Top
  27. What is sensitive data?

  28. Sensitive Data is any data that would pose a risk to species or parties involved if released to the public.

    Back to Top
  29. Why is data sensitive?

  30. Listed below are a variety of reasons to why data would be designated as sensitive…

    • Some species have trade or medicinal value that leaves them vulnerable to the careless collector.
    • Some species are sensitive to even low levels of disturbance during various stages of their life cycle (ex. Nesting birds).
    • Landowners may request that any elements observed on their properties remain classified, not only for species protection but for privacy and to inhibit the likelihood of trespassers.
    • If sensitive data is released to the wrong parties, such as an unscrupulous developer, they may be inclined to remove that species presence so they may move forward with developments. Data submitters may have concerns that data may be misused which in turn could jeopardize other parties or partners involved.
    • Some species are protected under legislation (e.g. Wildlife Act), meaning there is a legal obligation to protect the species and its habitat. The Wildlife Act takes precedence over the Freedom of Information Act if releasing the information will further jeopardize the species or its habitat.
    Back to Top
  31. Why is there a backlog?

  32. Data comes to the Conservation Data Centre in a number of formats. Historically, we have received emails, telephone calls and a variety of paper-based reports (e.g. Conservation Officer Incident Reports, Environmental Assessment Reports). This form of report requires CDC staff to find the location in our GIS system, map the location and then transcribe the relevant information into an appropriate record. This is a time consuming process involving confirmation of location, confirmation of species identification and transcription of varying amounts of information.

    One of our new abilities is to provide excel loadforms that drastically reduce the time required to process observations, by getting users to provide us information in a standard format.

    Back to Top
  33. How accurate is SKCDC's data?

  34. SKCDC's data entry process involves quality checking of each record. The identification of the species is verified and the location of the observation is checked using maps. For each new record, it must be evaluated whether the record should constitute a new Element Occurrence (EO), or should be incorporated into an observation of an existing EO.

    SKCDC staff also assign an accuracy code to every EO co-ordinate pair in order to reflect the best approximation of each location. The date the EO was last observed is updated whenever new information becomes available. If you notice any errors or discrepancies with SKCDC's data, please contact the appropriate SKCDC staff person to report your concern.

    Back to Top
  35. What is the source of SKCDC's data?

  36. SKCDC's Element Occurrence (EO) data is the product of the review and quality checking of many data sources. Personal accounts of rare species are reported to SKCDC and incorporated into the database. The majority of the EO data comes from existing data sets.

    The sources for the Natural Areas in SKCDC's Natural Areas database are also varied. These include natural area inventories, consultant reports, International Biological Programme reports, wetland evaluations and others. The SKCDC records the source of the data in the databases for both EO's and Natural Areas.

    Back to Top
  37. How do I get a login account for HABISask?

  38. Detailed species information is maintained by the SKCDC in order to afford protection to the species. Rare species data is treated as sensitive, and is only disseminated on a "need-to- know" basis.

    The SKCDC has two levels of data access: general user and detailed user. General Users access the application without a sign-in account and have access to locality information and level of rarity. Detailed users have read and understand the SKCDC Training Manual and have signed a Data Sharing Agreement with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment.

    If you are interested in obtaining a detailed user account for HABISask, please follow the instructions outlined on the SKCDC's HABISask page.

    Back to Top
  39. What do the circles and polygons on the map mean?

  40. Element occurrences consist of two components. This first is the observed (source) feature. Depending on the type of occurrence, an observed feature can be a point, a line or a polygon. Examples might include a ferruginous hawk nest (point), a stream segment containing bigmouth buffalo spawning beds (line), or a lake or bay used by staging shorebirds (polygon).

    The location of an observed feature is determined on the basis of information that is often incomplete or imperfect. The quality of the information may vary due to a number of factors. Consequently, the recorded location may vary from the true location reflecting a measure of spatial uncertainty.

    The second component is the representational polygon, the polygon you see. This polygon incorporates the spatial uncertainty and the observed feature to build a polygon representing the area within which the element occurrence is known to occur. The occurrence is somewhere within the representational polygon rather than everywhere within the polygon.

    Back to Top
  41. Can I access the SKCDC's data outside of HABISask?

  42. The SKCDC species occurrence data can be accessed through an ArcGIS REST service from the Government of Saskatchewan ArcGIS REST Services Directory. The layer is named "RareSpeciesGeneral", or "RareSpeciesDetailed" if signed in. Users with a HABISask account can be given access to the detailed service by sending a request to the SKCDC's data manager. If you’re using ArcGIS, see this help document for adding connections to ArcGIS Server. For advanced functionality (access the attribute table, change symbology, download a maximum of 10,000 features, etc.), use the feature service as opposed to the map service.

    Back to Top