Changes in the status of wildlife species at risk

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Wildlife species are essential to the integrity of ecosystems. However, some wildlife species are at risk of disappearing from Canada. Wildlife species that are thought to be at risk are periodically assessed. Changes in status over time may help determine whether conditions for these wildlife species are improving.

Results

Key results

Of the 479 wildlife species that have been reassessed and for which sufficient data are available to determine if there has been a change in status:

  • 81 wildlife species (17%) are now in a higher risk category
  • 86 wildlife species (18%) are now in a lower risk category
  • 312 wildlife species (65%) show no change in status

Changes in risk of disappearance of wildlife species from Canada, April 2018

Changes in risk of disappearance of wildlife species from Canada, April 2018 (see data table for the long description)
Data table for the long description
Changes in risk of disappearance of wildlife species from Canada, April 2018
Wildlife species group Higher risk
(number of species)
No change
(number of species)
Lower risk
(number of species)
Amphibians 3 13 1
Arthropods 4 18 2
Birds 13 53 14
Fishes (freshwater) 11 45 10
Fishes (marine) 5 9 6
Lichens 1 6 2
Mammals (marine) 5
21 3
Mammals (terrestrial) 4
26 7
Molluscs 2 17 6
Mosses 0 11 3
Reptiles 7
23 4
Vascular plants 26 70 28
Total 81 312 86

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How this indicator was calculated

Note: In this analysis, wildlife species refers to a species, subspecies or a genetically or geographically distinct population. Wildlife species disappearance may refer to extinction or extirpation (an extirpated species no longer occurs in the wild in Canada).
Source: Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, April 2018.

More information

To prevent the disappearance of wildlife species at risk from Canada, monitoring and sometimes conservation actions are required. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assesses wildlife species that may be at risk and places them in a risk category. If conservation actions are effective, the risk level will decrease over time. Nonetheless, depending on the life cycle of the species and the condition of its habitat, recovery may take many decades. In addition, some wildlife species are naturally rare in Canada, and these species are expected to remain at some level of risk.

Changes in risk level can be a result of improved information rather than actual changes in the condition of the wildlife species. This is more likely to occur for wildlife species that have improved in status than for wildlife species that have declined.Footnote 1

Most wildlife species remain in the same category when they are reassessed. The changes that are observed most often occur between neighbouring categories.

There was very little change in categories when looking at endangered status (a wildlife species facing imminent extirpation or extinction). Of the 15 wildlife species in the endangered status category in the previous assessment that were recently reassessed (November 2017 and April 2018):

  • the majority (12 wildlife species or 80%) remained in the endangered status category
  • 3 wildlife species changed to a lower risk category and were no longer categorized as endangered

In addition, 4 wildlife species that were from a lower risk category in the previous assessment were designated endangered in their most recent assessment.

Recent changes in the status of wildlife species at risk[A]
  Extinct, latest assessment
(number of species)
Extirpated, latest assessment
(number of species)
Endangered, latest assessment
(number of species)
Threatened, latest assessment
(number of species)
Special concern, latest assessment
(number of species)
Not at risk, latest assessment
(number of species)
Total, previous assessment
(number of species)
Extinct, previous assessment 12 0 0 0 0 0 12
Extirpated, previous assessment 0
18 0
0 0 0 18
Endangered, previous assessment 0 0 181 2 1 0 184
Threatened, previous assessment 0 0 3 99 2 0 104
Special concern, previous assessment 0 0 1 0 120 1 122
Not at risk, previous assessment 0 0 0 0 0 39
39
Total latest assessment 12 18 185 101 123 40 479

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.22 kB)

Note: [A] This detailed view highlights changes that could be due to improved information rather than actual changes in the condition of the wildlife species. The assessments are from various years up to April 2018.
Source: Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, April 2018.  

About the indicator

About the indicator

What the indicator measures

The Changes in the status of wildlife species at risk indicator reports on changes in wildlife species designations for wildlife species assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The committee is composed of independent experts who determine the national status of Canadian wildlife species, subspecies, varieties or other designatable units that are suspected of being at risk of extinction or extirpation.

Why this indicator is important

Recognition that a wildlife species is at risk of extinction or extirpation can focus management action. Successful management should reduce the risk of species loss. The conservation of wildlife species at risk is a key component of the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy, which aims to conserve biological diversity in Canada.Footnote 2 The conservation of such wildlife species is also the goal of the Species at Risk Act, which provides legal protection to prevent the extinction of wildlife species and secure the necessary actions for their recovery.

Ecosystems are composed of a variety of animals, plants and other organisms, each of which performs a specialized role. This diversity of life supports vital ecological processes and provides a wide range of resources known as ecological goods and services, such as oxygen production and water purification. The loss of species has detrimental impacts on ecosystems and the goods and services they provide.

This indicator is used to assess progress towards the 2016–2019 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy's target "By 2020, species that are secure remain secure, and populations of species at risk listed under federal law exhibit trends that are consistent with recovery strategies and management plans." It also contributes towards reporting on Target 2 of the 2020 Biodiversity target for Canada: "By 2020, species that are secure remain secure, and populations of species at risk listed under federal law exhibit trends that are consistent with recovery strategies and management plans."

Related indicators

The Species at risk population trends indicator tracks trends for wildlife species at risk that are listed under the Species at Risk Act. Not all species designated by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) are listed under the Species at Risk Act.

The Status of wild species indicator reports on extinction risks across a broad set of species. The ranking system used in that indicator is not the same as the one used here.

FSDS Icon - Healthy wildlife populations

Healthy wildlife populations

This indicator supports the measurement of progress towards the following 2016–2019 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy long-term goal: All species have healthy and viable populations.

Data sources and methods

Data sources and methods

Data sources

Data are from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) database on wildlife species at risk. Individual wildlife species status reports are available in the Species at Risk Public Registry.

More information

The committee meets twice a year to consider wildlife species reports, assess wildlife species' risk of extinction or extirpation, and designate a status category. The COSEWIC Secretariat maintains a database of the assessment results, which were summarized for this indicator. Documents related to wildlife species of interest can be found on the Species at Risk Public Registry. In general, wildlife species are reassessed every 10 years. The date of reassessment therefore varies widely within the dataset.

Wildlife species are assigned to one of 7 status categories: Extinct, Extirpated, Endangered, Threatened, Special Concern, Not at Risk or Data Deficient. As of April 2018, a total of 1 045 wildlife species had been assigned a status.

Table 1. Number of species by status category, Canada, April 2018
Status Number of species
Extinct 18
Extirpated 22
Endangered 338
Threatened 183
Special Concern 228
Not at Risk 197
Data Deficient 59
Total 1 045

Wildlife species are also assigned a status change based on their previous status. The Changes in the status of wildlife species at risk indicator uses the set of wildlife species that have been reassessed by COSEWIC and have not been designated as Data Deficient in either of the last 2 assessments (479 species).

Methods

The indicator is a tabulation of status changes between the 2 most recent assessments for each species.

More information

Wildlife species assessment

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is a committee of independent experts that assesses wildlife species that may be at risk of disappearing from Canada.

The assessment process is divided into 3 sequential steps:

  1. selection of wildlife species requiring assessment to create the prioritized Candidate Wildlife Species List
  2. compilation of available data, knowledge and information to produce status reports
  3. assessment of a wildlife species' risk of extinction or extirpation and corresponding designation (status category)

In general, wildlife species are reassessed every 10 years. If information received suggests that a species should be reassessed sooner, COSEWIC may do so.

Indicator calculation

In its assessments, COSEWIC notes a status change. Wildlife species that have been assessed only once are given the change status of New. For reassessed wildlife species, there are 6 possible change status categories: No change, In a higher risk category, In a lower risk category, No longer at risk, Changed, and Reassigned. The change status for reassessed species is based on the 2 most recent assessments.

The indicator includes wildlife species that have been reassessed and for which it is possible to assess the change in risk. Therefore, of the 1 045 wildlife species with an assigned status, the indicator excludes 566 species:

  • wildlife species that have been assessed only once and have a change status designation of New (455 species)
  • wildlife species that are Data Deficient in either assessment and have a change status designation of Changed (21 species)
  • wildlife species with a status change designation of Reassigned (86 species), which is used in cases where the unit being assessed has changed based on new information, for example a species that is split into subspecies or geographical units
  • wildlife species that are Data Deficient in both recent assessments, which are assigned a change status designation of No change by COSEWIC (4 species)
Table 2. Relationship between change status and indicator category
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada change status Definition Changes in wildlife species' disappearance risk category
New Wildlife species examined for the first time Excluded from the indicator
Changed Wildlife species moved to the Data Deficient category from a risk category or to a risk category from the Data Deficient category Excluded from the indicator
No change Wildlife species stays in the same category after reassessment No change[A]
In a higher risk category Wildlife species placed in a higher risk category after reassessment Higher risk
In a lower risk category Wildlife species placed in a lower risk category after reassessment Lower risk
No longer at risk Wildlife species moved to the Not at Risk category from a risk category Lower risk
Reassigned Wildlife species that has been assigned to a different designatable unit Excluded from the indicator

Note: [A] Wildlife species that are Data Deficient on both dates when an assessment was made are excluded from the indicator.

Recent changes

A previous breakdown of movements from one category to another has not been included. Such a detailed view highlights changes that could be due to improved information rather than actual changes in the condition of the wildlife species.

Caveats and limitations

Wildlife species may take a long time to recover, and some wildlife species are naturally rare in Canada. A change in status may occur only after significant biological change has been detected. For these reasons, relatively few wildlife species should be expected to show changes in risk level when reassessed. Nonetheless, if management efforts are successful, we should expect to see more improvements than declines over time.

More information

Changes in risk level can be a result of improved information rather than actual changes in the condition of the wildlife species. Many wildlife species that show decreased risk are reclassified due to new information, rather than biological change. Changes in knowledge often involve the detection of additional populations, with the result that wildlife species are less at risk of extinction than previously believed. Changes due to new knowledge can happen quickly, while biological increases need time.

Some wildlife species may change risk level due to changes in the interpretation of the assessment criteria.

Wildlife species that are naturally rare may be considered to be at risk because they are more vulnerable to threats. The lack of change for these wildlife species should not be considered a conservation failure.

Knowledge of which wildlife species may be at risk is far from complete, and only a portion of those suspected to be at risk can be assessed. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada prioritizes assessments based on expert opinion. Early efforts focused mainly on vertebrates and plants, which are also the better-known wildlife species. As a result, these wildlife species are over-represented among those that have been reassessed. Similarly, more knowledge has been gathered on wildlife species in southern Canada and in terrestrial habitats.

Wildlife species that are at risk can take a long time to recover, especially if they are long-lived and slow to reproduce. Also, in some cases, recovery depends on improvements to habitat which may take many decades.

Resources

Resources

References

Government of Canada (2018) Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Retrieved on September 12, 2018.

Government of Canada (2018) Species at Risk Public Registry. Retrieved on September 12, 2018.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (2018) The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved on September 12, 2018.

Moore A, Cyr A, Findlay S (2016) Do changes in COSEWIC status reflect changes in species' biological status. Report to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), 10pp.

National General Status Working Group (2015) Wild Species Reports. Retrieved on September 12, 2018.

 

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