A large-scale, multidisciplinary monitoring program is currently operating in northeastern Alberta, Canada. The study area contains conventional oil and gas deposits, commercial forestry, agriculture, urbanization, a transportation network to support those industries and other, smaller economic interests. These activities are in addition to the large scale influence of an active fire regime, insect disturbance and climate change. Although there is a long history of research and monitoring of birds in the oil sands area, development of conceptual models for birds has been limited.

Through this project a hierarchical set of conceptual models was developed to inform a biodiversity monitoring program in the oil sands area of Alberta, Canada. The models were developed in an iterative process informed by literature and expert opinion. Models included a systems model for the ecosystem, a state-transition model for landscape level habitats, and life-history models for the landscape, guild and species levels. By helping to characterize the ecosystem, clarify assumptions, and elicit the opinions of experts, these models proved useful for illuminating the challenges in isolating the impact of oil sands activities from other industries in the region.