Gap Analysis

Elizabeth Borneman


Gap analysis is a way of mapping different areas of biodiversity for researchers and conservationists to detect potentially endangered species as well as other political, ecological, and demographic features of the same region. Gap analysis is incredibly helpful for discovering the effectiveness of current conservation efforts as well as determining potential expansions for projects underway.

Gap analysis is used to determine the overall biodiversity of a specific location, as opposed to just knowing about one or two of the most endangered species in the area. Gap analysis is helping researchers and conservationists to direct the public and scientific communities’ eyes towards a greater need for biodiversity conservation rather than towards a few endangered species.

People know about the plight of the spotted leopard, the bald eagle and many other species around the world that face extinction every day. Unfortunately the great focus on these few species means that other, lesser known endangered species of flora and fauna are left with no funding and no publicity.

Gap analysis is helping researchers be able to see the great diversity contained in vast tracts of space and help decide how to best protect the areas of great biodiversity for all the plants and animals that live within, rather than just a few key species. The focus on endangered species is needed and wanted, but an increased public understanding of the incredibly bio-diverse world we live in is very essential for the survival of all species.

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Gap analysis begins with mapping an area of land and determining the dominant ecological systems of the region. The second step involves mapping and modeling the specific species data of the plant and animal species that live in the area. Thirdly, gap analysts map land stewardship, taking into consideration areas of already protected lands, lands owned by other parties, publically owned lands, etc. Finally gap analysts make an overall assessment of the study and their recommendations for steps moving forward. Conservationists take into consideration the long term effects of the gap analysis to determine what overall benefits for biodiversity in the area will occur because of study.

GAP ecological gap analysis map.  Map: USGS.
GAP ecological gap analysis map. Map: USGS.

An important tool in the field of gap analysis is Geographic Information Systems, or GIS. GIS is used to create maps of the different areas of interest to a gap analysis. These maps include topography, existing species populations, areas of conservation efforts, areas of public lands, and more in order to create a complete perspective of the area in question. Conservationists can look at areas of great biodiversity to determine whether they are currently protected or not; if not, they can look at nearby areas of conservation to see whether or not the bio-diverse areas can be connected together.

The results of a gap analysis ultimately can include digital maps covering land cover, animal distribution, protected areas, gaps in conservation, and areas of increased biodiversity, all to be used to determine the status of conservation in a particular region, state or country.

There are typically three different types of gap analysis that are used for different purposes. There is the representation gap, which determines if a species is present in an area or not; if it is, to decide if it is adequately protected or not or if additional conservation efforts are needed for the particular species. Secondly there are the ecological gaps, which determine the adequacy of the protected area taking into consideration the natural habitat of a species as well as that species’ movement, if any. Finally there are management gaps, which show existing protected areas but detail where protection might be influenced by different political or management structures not allowing for the full protection of a species.

Gap analysis is used in politics to help create publically funded areas of conservation. Gap analysis done by different groups can change environmental policies so that they are friendlier towards conservation efforts. Gap analysis can also be used to estimate areas of future protection, determine environmental action, and help other organizations to specify their goals and mission for a unified conservation effort.

Gap analysis is an important aspect of animal conservation because it allows for the acquisition of data showing areas of great biodiversity that need protection. Although the focus on specific endangered species is good, an understanding of conservation to include entire ecosystems is incredibly important for the future of conservation and the world around us.


US Geological Survey. National Gap Analysis program. 5 September 2012.

Michael Scott, Frank Davis, Blair Csuti, Reed Noss, Bart Butterfield, Craig Groves, Hal Anderson, Steve Caicco, Frank D’Erchia, Thomas C. Edwards, Jr., Joe Ulliman, R. Gerald Wright. Gap Analysis: A Geographic Approach to Protection of Biological Diversity.Wildlife Monographs, No. 123, Gap Analysis: A Geographic Approach to Protection of Biological Diversity (Jan., 1993), pp. 3-41. Allen Press. 19 June 2009.

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About the author
Elizabeth Borneman
My name is Elizabeth Borneman and I am a freelance writer, reader, and coffee drinker. I live on a small island in Alaska, which gives me plenty of time to fish, hike, kayak, and be inspired by nature. I enjoy writing about the natural world and find lots of ways to flex my creative muscles on the beach, in the forest, or down at the local coffee shop.