Wild Species 2015: section 1

Section 1 – Introduction

Canada is a large country and home to thousands of species. The first step in preventing the loss of species is to know which species we have in Canada, where they occur and what their status is. The aim of the reports of the Wild Species series is to provide this overview.

Why a report on species in Canada?

In 1996, the wildlife ministers in Canada signed the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, and made the key commitment to “monitor, assess and report regularly on the status of all Wild Species”. This ambitious goal is the mandate of the program on the General Status of Species in Canada. To achieve this mandate, the National General Status Working Group (NGSWG) was formed. This working group includes representatives from all provincial and territorial governments in Canada, and from the federal government.

A few years later, the federal government confirmed the commitment that was made under the Accord by including in the Species at Risk Act section 128 that stipulates that “five years after this section comes into force and at the end of each subsequent period of five years, the Minister must prepare a general report on the status of wildlife species”.

Reports from the Wild Species series serve as the basis to fulfill both requirements. These reports are meant to inform Canadians about the status of species in the country, and to help prevent species in Canada from becoming extinct as a consequence of human activity.

To prevent species in Canada from becoming extinct, intervention at early stages is fundamental. In the National Framework for Species at Risk Conservation, which is a document detailing how to implement the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, two main steps are identified in the species assessment process:

  1. First, jurisdictions collectively review the general status of their wildlife species, using the best available information and inventory data, to determine whether any species under their jurisdiction may be at risk.
  2. Next, those species that may be at risk are further examined, using a science-based approach, to more fully understand the nature and severity of the risk. The end result may be a classification as: extinct; extirpated, endangered; threatened; special concern; data deficient; or, not at risk.

The first step is conducted by the program on General Status of Species in Canada. The second step is done by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). COSEWIC is a committee of experts that does detailed assessments of species that are suspected of being at risk of extinction or extirpation. The species that are identified as may be at risk by the National General Status Working Group are species that could be potential candidates for more detailed assessments by COSEWIC.

How many species in Canada?

The various types of habitats found in Canada, including for example the deciduous forest, the boreal forest, the tundra, or the ocean regions, support many different species. In the Wild Species 2010 report, the best available estimate indicated that about 70 000 species were known to occur in Canada. This number was based mainly on estimates dating from the 1990s, 1980s, and 1970s. For the Wild Species 2015 report, the National General Status Working Group, in collaboration with the Biological Survey of Canada, reviewed the estimated total number of species present in Canada. The new estimate indicates that there are about 80 000 known species in Canada, excluding viruses and bacteria (Figure 1). These species are divided among five different kingdoms: the protozoa kingdom (about 1% of the known species in Canada); the chromist kingdom (about 4% of the known species in Canada); the fungi kingdom (about 16% of the known species in Canada); the plant kingdom (about 11% of the known species in Canada); and the animal kingdom (about 68% of the known species in Canada).

The animal kingdom contains the majority of known species. Interestingly, insects are the most diverse group, accounting for nearly 70% of the known animal species in Canada. Just four major taxonomic groups, the order Coleoptera (beetles), the order Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and relatives), the order Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies), and the order Diptera (flies), represent most of the insects in Canada.

In this report, the conservation status of about 30 000 species has been assessed. In the protozoa kingdom, 0% of the known species in Canada have been assessed. In the chromist kingdom, 0% of the known species in Canada have been assessed. In the fungi kingdom, about 8% of the known species in Canada have been assessed. In the plant kingdom, about 74% of the known species in Canada have been assessed. In the animal kingdom, about 42% of the known species in Canada have been assessed. Even though the number of animal species assessed is the highest, the plants have the highest proportion of species assessed.

There are potentially many more unknown species in Canada. These unknown species could be species that are new to science or species that are already known to science but that have not yet been documented as occurring in Canada. As more of these unrecorded species are found, the estimation of the known species is likely to continue to increase. However, it is difficult to estimate the number of species that remain to be discovered. There are also many potential subdivisions below the species level. For example, subspecies, populations, stocks, or designatable units are divisions below the species level. While these divisions have merit, there tends to be more disagreement over the precise limits and biological significance of differences observed at this finer scale. Moreover, relatively few species have been examined closely enough to distinguish whether or not subspecies or discrete stocks exist. These subdivisions are then often part of a more detailed assessment. Since the mandate of the program on General Status of Species in Canada is to provide an overview of the status of the species, and since a vast number of species are included, the assessments for the Wild Species reports are usually done only at the species level. The most familiar measure of diversity is the number of species, and these reports focus on that perspective of biodiversity.

Figure 1. Total number of known species in Canada (about 80 000 species, excluding viruses and bacteria), and number of species assessed in this report (about 30 000 species).
Multiple bar charts  (see long description below)
Long description for Figure 1

Figure 1 shows the total number of known species in Canada (about 80 000 species, excluding viruses and bacteria), and the number of species assessed in this report (about 30 000 species). The bar graph shows the number of species assessed, and the total number of species found in Canada for each taxonomic group. All species were assessed for the following groups: mammals (218), birds (664), reptiles (48), amphibians (47), fishes (1389), moths and butterflies (5297), beetles (8180), sponges (271), vascular plants (5121) and bryophytes (1351). A portion of species were assessed for the following groups: starfish and sea urchins (114 species out of 432), crustaceans (313 species out of 3127), other insects (1960 species out of 2904), flies (1001 species out of 8535), bee, wasps and relatives (1190 species out of 8000), spiders and relatives (1400 species out of 3411), molluscs (425 species out of 1600), corals and jellyfishes (215 species out of 886), lichens (861 species out of 2600) and basidiomycete fungi (84 species out of 3400). The remaining groups have not yet been assessed. These include other chordates (160), other terrestrial arthropods (605), true bugs (4234), annelid worms and relatives (1152), nematode worms and relatives (1153), rotifers and other worms (585), flatworms and ribbon worms (672), moss animals and relatives (414), green and red algae (2250), other fungi (1400), Ascomycete fungi (5000), other chromist algae (610), brown algae (300), diatoms (2000), dinoflagellates (60) and Protozoa (1000).

Previous wild species reports

The first report of the series was Wild Species 2000. In that report, a total of 1670 species were assessed. One of the greatest strengths of that report was to bring together, for the first time in Canada, the knowledge we had on most vertebrates of the country.

The second report of the series was Wild Species 2005. In that report, a total of 7732 species were assessed. One of the greatest achievements of that report was to assess for the first time the general status of all vascular plants in Canada. The addition of the vascular plants, which counted for more than 5000 species, was responsible for most of the increase in the number of assessed species.

The third report of the series was Wild Species 2010. In that report, a total 11 950 species were assessed. One of the greatest strengths of that report was to assess for the first time the conservation status of several groups of insects. To reflect this, a photo of a lady beetle was selected as the main feature of the report’s cover page.

The Wild Species 2015 report is the fourth of the series. By assessing a total of 29 848 species, one of its greatest achievements is to start to cover a significant portion of Canada’s diversity of species. For example, new groups of marine species were assessed and several large groups of insects were also added. A particular focus on pollinators was made, and a bee was selected for the main photo of the cover page.

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