Canadian Biodiversity: Where We Go Wrong and How To Improve

Updated: Sep 6, 2019

This is a piece authored by Juliahna Hill, read her bio below!


In 2015, Canada had 80,000 known species (10). While without a lack of life, our presence and exploitation of our planet's resources greatly threatens this amount. Research has found that for “488 species in Canada [...], habitat loss is the most prevalent threat (84%), followed by over-exploitation (32%), native species interactions (31%), natural causes (27%), pollution (26%), and introduced species (22%)" (1). "Agriculture (46%) and urbanization (44%) are the most common human activities causing habitat loss and pollution” (1). Thus, the two most prevalent factors - habitat loss and over-exploitation - explored below, require the most attention.


Urbanization: Urbanization leads to habitat destruction, causing immediate and long-term aftereffects. For example, Habitat Destruction and the Extinction Debt by Tillman et al. (1994) suggests that, while the urbanization process may not destroy entire habitats, in remaining patches, dominant competitors risk a “time-delayed but deterministic extinction”. Fragmentation* is to blame for the long-term effects. The greater the fragmentation, the greater the number of current and future generational extinctions (2).


Solution: Urbanization is an inevitable fact; the ideal resolution must be to control its current and future damage. With construction projects such as roads, it is encouraged to research areas of high biodiversity and incorporate ‘corridors’**. Moreover, the monitoring and evaluation of protected areas is of the utmost importance considering the constant evolution of land and ecosystems. Canada has “a total network of more than 7,500 protected areas cover[ing] the equivalent of 11.5[%] of the nation’s landmass” (3). While this amount is commendable, it is important to verify species’ hotspot areas and prioritize those that will reap the most benefits of non-intervention as a whole. The effectiveness of these approaches can be observed in Banff National Park, where two closure projects (Fairholme Range Environmentally Sensitive Site and the Middle Springs Closure) have taken place, and one corridor repair project has happened in the Cascade Corridor Restoration (4).


Overexploitation: Realistically, our current economic system generates a subconscious prioritization of human consumption and extrinsic natural values (appreciating an object in nature for its capacity of worth to humans) over intrinsic natural values (appreciating an object in nature for its own worth). Changing this directly to improve biodiversity conservation would prove to be a great feat. Taking the Canadian fishing industry as an example, where according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, in 2015, the aquaculture industry generated a revenue of 3 billion dollars (5). While beneficial for Canada’s economy, its lucrativeness is a motivating factor justifying the overexploitation of Canadian aquatic species. Hence, since environmental and stochastic factors are unpredictable, humankind has a responsibility to consider intrinsic over economic values. Overexploitation results from a lack of understanding of species interactions (e.g., competition, trophic position and the effect of the change of each species’ presence) which could not only affect their population, but those of other species relying on their presence.***As a result, proper research of exploited species’ effect in their role in their and other species’ ecosystem must be done consistently.


The government of Canada states: “The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is an independent advisory panel to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada that meets twice a year to assess the status of wildlife species at risk of extinction” (6). These, and other Canadian NGOs such as those listed below are essential to support and involve oneself with, as they are the major contributors having the largest impact for Canada’s species conservation efforts and forwarding the solutions presented above.



Canadian networks, associations, gateways, portals, and directories of environmental groups: (Sourced from Goodwork.ca)


Author Bio: Juliahna is a francophone undergraduate student at the University of Ottawa enrolled in her fourth year of an Honors Bsc program in Biology. She has had a passion for environmental health due to her love of animals and biology which began the moment she looked at a cell under a microscope for the first time. Life requires a healthy environment to be sustainable and to thrive. Thus, when she is not volunteering with animals, she is working on forming an environmental action club at her university. She also has an Instagram nature page dedicated towards reminding people of the beauty of the world that we want to preserve.



*Defined as the process during which a large expanse of habitat is transformed into a number of smaller patches of smaller total area isolated from each other [...] (7) **Corridors are “protected route[s] that allows wildlife to move safely between areas of suitable habitat” (4)

*** See Estes et al., Sea otters, kelp forests, and the extinction of Steller’s sea cow article (8)


References:

  1. Venter, Oscar, Brodeur, N., N., Nemiroff, Leah, . . . A., J. W. (2006, November 01). Threats to Endangered Species in Canada. Retrieved July 29, 2019

  2. Tilman, D., May, R. M., Lehman, C. L., & Nowak, M. A. (1994). Habitat destruction and the extinction debt. Nature,371(6492), 65-66. doi:10.1038/371065a0

  3. Walker. (2017, November 01). Infographic: Canada's protected areas. Retrieved July 30, 2019

  4. Parks Canada Agency, & Government of Canada. (2017, April 01). Wildlife corridors – a 'moving' story. Retrieved July 30, 2019

  5. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Communications Branch. (2016, May 18). Facts on Canadian Fisheries.

  6. Climate Change Canada, G. (2019, July 08). Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Retrieved July 30, 2019

  7. Chapter 4.9 - Habitat Fragmentation and Metapopulation, Metacommunity, and Metaecosystem Dynamics in Intermittent Rivers and Ephemeral Streams

  8. Estes, J. A., Burdin, A., & Doak, D. F. (2015). Sea otters, kelp forests, and the extinction of Steller’s sea cow. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,113(4), 880-885. doi:10.1073/pnas.1502552112

  9. Datry, T., Corti, R., Heino, J., Hugueny, B., Rolls, R. J., & Ruhí, A. (2017). Habitat Fragmentation and Metapopulation, Metacommunity, and Metaecosystem Dynamics in Intermittent Rivers and Ephemeral Streams. Intermittent Rivers and Ephemeral Streams,377-403. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-803835-2.00014-0

  10. C. (Ed.). (2015). Wild Species 2015: THE GENERAL STATUS OF SPECIES IN CANADA. Retrieved July 29, 2019

  11. Work in environment, conservation and nature. (n.d.). Retrieved July 29, 2019

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