CAPS is a computer software program and an approach to prioritizing land for conservation based on the assessment of ecological integrity for various ecological communities (e.g. forest, shrub swamp, headwater stream) within an area.
The first step in the CAPS approach is the characterization of both the developed and undeveloped elements of the landscape. With a computer base map depicting various classes of developed and undeveloped land, we then evaluate a variety of landscape-based variables ("metrics") for every point in the landscape. A metric may, for example, take into account the microclimatic alterations associated with "edge effects," intensity of road traffic in the vicinity, nutrient loading in aquatic ecosystems, or the effects of human development on landscape connectivity.
Various metrics are applied to the landscape and then integrated in weighted linear combinations as models for predicting ecological integrity. This process results in a final Index of Ecological Integrity (IEI) for each point in the landscape based on models constructed separately for each ecological community. Intermediate results are saved to facilitate analysis—thus one can examine not only a map of the final indices of ecological integrity, but maps of road traffic intensity, connectedness, microclimate alterations, and so on.
Because CAPS provides a quantitative assessment of ecological integrity it can be used for comparing various scenarios. In essence, scenario analysis involves running CAPS separately for each scenario, and comparing results to determine the loss (or gain) in IEI units. This scenario testing capability can be used to evaluate and compare the impacts of development projects on habitat conditions as well as the potential benefits of habitat management or environmental restoration.