Wild Species 2015: section 2

Section 2 – Methodology

National General Status Working Group

The National General Status Working Group is composed of representatives from each of the Canadian provinces and territories and of the three federal agencies whose mandate includes wildlife (Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Parks Canada). Members of the working group are responsible for completing the assessments of species in their respective jurisdictions. The National General Status Working Group is composed of three membership categories:

  • Government representatives
  • Conservation Data Centre specialists
  • Ex officio members

The government representatives are the voting members on the working group, and have the final signoff on the ranks. They are accountable to the federal/provincial/territorial Canadian Wildlife Directors’ Committee. The role of the Conservation Data Center specialists is to ensure data sharing and transfers. They are responsible for the integration of the results of the assessments into the conservation data centres. Ex officio members are key collaborators who provide special expertise and assistance in the assessments of some groups of species. There are currently three ex officio members in the working group: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Natural Resources Canada, and the office of NatureServe Canada.

The National General Status Working Group is responsible to the Canadian Wildlife Directors’ Committee, and ultimately to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council, regrouping all wildlife ministers in Canada. For the contact information of all members of the working group, please consult Appendix 1 of this report.

NatureServe

The National General Status Working Group is using the methodology of NatureServe to assess the conservation status of species in Canada. NatureServe is an international network comprised of over 80 conservation data centres across the western hemisphere, connecting science with conservation. These conservation data centres use common data standards, shared processes and regular information exchanges to track the status of biodiversity. NatureServe methodology was chosen to leverage international scientific standards and enable better integration with provincial and territorial governments in Canada through their conservation data centres. NatureServe Canada, a Canadian node of the international network, provides scientific and technical support to the members of the National General Status Working Group. This support is accomplished by integrating the results of the Wild Species reports into the NatureServe data management system. Once this integration is done, the results are also available on the NatureServe Explorer.

Process for species assessment

The process to assess the conservation status of species is based on the best available knowledge (Figure 2). Various sources of knowledge indicate whether there is enough information available to move forward with the assessment of a specific taxonomic group. The most critical step is the development of the list of species for the selected taxonomic groups. The list indicates which species are currently known to be or to have been in Canada. For many groups of species in Canada, there is not enough knowledge to even build a species list, meaning that we do not know which species we have in the country. The conservation status of these species thus cannot be assessed. For groups of species with sufficient knowledge, information from the various sources is brought together to build the list of species in Canada. To validate the scientific names of species in the list, the National General Status Working Group uses world-class taxonomic references. This ensures that the most recognized scientific names of the species are used, and also confirms that the species are valid based on current knowledge. For example, when synonyms of the same species are found in different sources, the scientific name in the world-class reference is used. The list of world-class taxonomic references used for each group of species can be found in the database of the Wild Species report.

Once the list of species is developed, the next step is to assess the conservation status of the species. When a taxonomic group is selected, the conservation status of all species in this group is assessed. The assessments then do not focus only on the known rare or endangered species, but rather on all species in the group. The National General Status Working Group uses different strategies depending on the amount of information available. For well-known taxonomic groups, which consist mainly of vertebrate species (mammal, birds and others), the assessments are usually conducted directly by the working group. For the lesser-known taxonomic groups, which consist mainly of invertebrate species (insects and others), experts are hired to support the working group to undertake the assessments. The experts propose a list of species, and also suggest conservation status ranks. Depending on the number of species in a taxonomic group and on the availability of expertise, sometimes one national expert will be hired to assist all governments in Canada, and sometimes several regional experts will be hired. The list of experts involved in this report can be found in Appendix 2. The governments then review the ranks and add more information when possible. The government that has the final signoff on the ranks varies depending on the type of species. For most terrestrial species, the provincial and territorial governments have the final signoff on the ranks. For aquatic species, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (federal government) has the final signoff on the ranks. For migratory birds, the Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment and Climate Change Canada (federal government) has the final signoff on the ranks. However, the ranks are usually done through a collaborative approach.

Once the conservation status assessments are completed, the ranks are integrated in the conservation data centers. The program on the General Status of Species in Canada is thus one of the main drivers to update the ranks in the conservation data centres. The National General Status Working Group also reviews the other information provided in the database of the Wild Species report. The information is then used for the production of the Wild Species reports. This process is repeated every five years. Because the Wild Species reports represent a snapshot in time, the federal, provincial and territorial governments should be contacted if more recent conservation status ranks are needed, or for conservation status ranks below the species level.

After the release of a Wild Species report, the National General Status Working Group prepares a five-year work plan for the next report. This five-year work plan determines the priority of the taxonomic groups to be included, and outlines the new assessments that will be aimed to be completed. The taxonomic groups are selected based on the availability of information, expertise, and resources. Usually, once a taxonomic group is included in an edition of the Wild Species report, the species are reassessed every five years in the subsequent reports. For each taxonomic group on the work plan, a leader within the working group is appointed. When necessary, the leaders help to identify experts that could be hired to support the assessments. The leaders also assist with the final revision of the results of their taxonomic groups before the release of the Wild Species report.

Figure 2. Process for species assessment in Canada.
Flowchart (see long description below)
Long description for Figure 2

Figure 2 shows a flowchart outlining the process for species assessment in Canada. First, the best available knowledge is gathered from a variety of resources (museum collections, scientific literature, scientists and specialists, aboriginal traditional knowledge, community knowledge, conservation data centres, Provincial, territorial and federal wildlife departments). Then a list of species in Canada for a specific taxonomic group is developed. Next, the conservation status for each species is assessed by all governments in the National General Status Working Group. The data produce is then integrated in the conservation data centres and the Wild Species report is produce. These assessments are repeated every 5 years.

Ranking system

Each species assessed in the Wild Species reports received a rank in each province, territory, or ocean region in which they are known to be present, as well as an overall national rank for Canada. These ranks represent the conservation status of the species, based on the best available knowledge (Table 1). The National General Status Working Group is using the ranking system of NatureServe.

Table 1A. Ranking system of NatureServe used to assess the conservation status of species. Geographic scale
Rank Category Description
N National Indicates a rank at the national level in Canada.
S Subnational Indicates a rank at the level of a province, territory, or ocean region in Canada

 

Table 1B. Ranking system of NatureServe used to assess the conservation status of species.
Conservation status
Rank Category Description
X Presumed Extirpated Species is believed to be extirpated from the jurisdiction (nation, province, territory, or ocean region). Not located despite intensive searches of historical sites and other appropriate habitat, and virtually no likelihood that it will be rediscovered.
H Possibly Extirpated Known from only historical records but still some hope of rediscovery. There is evidence that the species may no longer be present in the jurisdiction, but not enough to state this with certainty. Examples of such evidence include: (1) that a species has not been documented in approximately 20-40 years despite some searching and/or some evidence of significant habitat loss or degradation; (2) that a species has been searched for unsuccessfully, but not thoroughly enough to presume that it is no longer present in the jurisdiction.
1 Critically Imperiled At very high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to very restricted range, very few populations or occurrences, very steep declines, severe threats, or other factors.
2 Imperiled At high risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to restricted range, few populations or occurrences, steep declines, severe threats, or other factors.
3 Vulnerable At moderate risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to a fairly restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, threats, or other factors.
4 Apparently Secure At a fairly low risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to an extensive range and/or many populations or occurrences, but with possible cause for some concern as a result of local recent declines, threats, or other factors.
5 Secure At very low or no risk of extirpation in the jurisdiction due to a very extensive range, abundant populations or occurrences, with little to no concern from declines or threats.
U Unrankable Currently unrankable due to lack of information or due to substantially conflicting information about status or trends.
NR Unranked National or subnational conservation status not yet assessed.
NA Not Applicable A conservation status rank is not applicable because the species is not a suitable target for conservation activities. It includes exotic species (that have been moved beyond their natural range as a result of human activity), hybrids, or long distance migrants (accidental species occurring infrequently and unpredictably outside their usual range).

 

Table 1C. Ranking system of NatureServe used to assess the conservation status of species.
Qualifier
Rank Category Description
? Inexact Numeric Rank Denotes inexact numeric rank. This designation should not be used with any of the X, H, U, NR or NA conservation status ranks.
B Breeding Conservation status refers to the breeding population of the species in the nation, province, territory, or ocean region.
N Non-breeding Conservation status refers to the non-breeding population of the species in the nation, province, territory, or ocean region.
M Migrant Conservation status refers to the migrant population of the species in the nation, province, territory, or ocean region.

The geographic scale is written first, followed by the conservation status, followed by the qualifier if necessary. For example, N5B means a national rank of secure that covers only the breeding population of the species. For example, N5? means a national rank of secure that is uncertain. The majority of ranks do not have qualifiers, such as N5 for example.

Range ranks can also be used. For example, N2N3 means that the national rank of the species in Canada is between imperiled and vulnerable. For example, N1N3 means that the national rank of the species in Canada is between critically imperiled and vulnerable. Range ranks are applied only for numerical conservation status and are used to indicate any range of uncertainty about the status of the species. Ranges cannot skip more than two ranks (NU is used rather than N1N4).

Factors underlying general status assessments

To help determine the most appropriate rank for a species, the National General Status Working Group uses a tool called the rank calculator. The rank calculator was developed by NatureServe and can integrate the available information for 10 factors of rarity, threats, and trends (Table 2). These factors are used to determine the conservation status of a species.

Table 2. List of factors included in the NatureServe rank calculator.
Category Factor
Rarity Range extent
Rarity Area of occupancy
Rarity Number of occurrences
Rarity Population size
Rarity Good viability / ecological integrity
Rarity Environmental specificity
Threats Assigned overall threat impact
Threats Intrinsic vulnerability
Trends Short-term trend
Trends Long-term trend

Not all factors need to be filled for each species. In many cases, there is not enough information to fill the rank calculator, and the species is then unrankable (U). To output a rank different than U, the rank calculator needs a minimum of two factors: two factors of rarity, or one factor of rarity and one factor of threats or one factor of trends. For species in well-known taxonomic groups, more than two factors are often filled. For species in lesser-known taxonomic groups, the two factors that are most often filled, when available, are the range extent and the number of occurrences.

For more information on these factors, or to download the rank calculator, please consult the NatureServe website (Conservation Rank Calculator).

Development of regional ranks

A regional rank is developed for each species in every province, territory, or ocean region where it occurs in Canada. For example, if a species occurs in Quebec and Ontario, then both provinces will have a regional rank. Figure 3 shows all the regions in Canada, and Table 3 defines the codes used for each region. Waters often have a shared jurisdiction in Canada. For aquatic species, the separation that we used was the difference between the fresh waters (lakes and rivers for example) and the salt waters. For species occurring in fresh waters, the ranks were placed in the provinces or territories. For species occurring in salt waters, the ranks were placed in the ocean regions. For species occurring in both fresh and salt waters, ranks were developed for the corresponding provinces, territories, and ocean regions.

The rank calculator is used to help determine each regional rank. If a species occurs in 10 provinces or territories, the rank calculator will then be filled 10 times with information specific to each region for this species.

Figure 3. Map of Canada showing the regions (provinces, territories, oceans) for which general status ranks are generated.
Map of Canada (see long description below)
Long description for Figure 3

Figure 3 shows a map of Canada showing the regions (provinces, territories, oceans) for which general status ranks are generated. The 13 provinces and territories (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Yukon) and the four oceans regions (Atlantic, Eastern Arctic, Western Arctic, and Pacific) are represented. The Pacific Ocean region extends from the most southern part of British Columbia, north to just past Haida Gwaii. The Western Arctic Ocean region extends from Northern Yukon and Northwest Territories. The Eastern Arctic Ocean region extends from Northern Nunavut east to northern Quebec, including Hudson’s Bay. The Atlantic Ocean region extends from all Maritime Provinces (Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island) as well as eastern Quebec.

 

Table 3. Codes used to represent the regions in Canada.
Code Regions
CA Canada
YT Yukon
NT Northwest Territories
NU Nunavut
BC British Columbia
AB Alberta
SK Saskatchewan
MB Manitoba
ON Ontario
QC Quebec
NB New Brunswick
NS Nova Scotia
PE Prince Edward Island
LB Labrador
NF Newfoundland
PAC Pacific Ocean
WAO Western Arctic Ocean
EAO Eastern Arctic Ocean
ATL Atlantic Ocean

Development of national ranks

Since species are assessed in all of the regions where they occur in Canada, the regional ranks offer a strong basis to determine the national ranks. In many cases, the National General Status Working Group uses rules to determine the most obvious national ranks. The rules deal with four main situations:

  1. When a species is occurring in only one region in Canada, the national rank is then the same as the regional rank.
  2. When a species is ranked SU, SNR, or SNA in all regions where it occurs in Canada, then the same rank is automatically given at the national level.
  3. When a species is apparently secure or secure in at least one region in Canada, then the species is also apparently secure or secure at the national level.
  4. When a species is vulnerable or more at risk in a region and there is uncertainty in other regions (the species is ranked SU or SNR in at least two other regions), then the national rank is NU.

Some exceptions can also be made to this general approach. For example, if a species is secure in one region, but an imminent threat is severely affecting the species elsewhere in Canada, the National General Status Working Group can decide to not rank the species as secure at the national level. In all other situations that are not covered by the rules, the working group uses the rank calculator to determine the national rank of a species.

Ranking migratory species

Migratory species include for example most of the birds, as well as other species such as bats, butterflies, sea turtles, and cetaceans. Long-distance migratory species require a more precise categorical approach than is used for non-migratory species. Consequently, the qualifiers B (breeding), N (non-breeding), and M (migrant) are used for migratory species. Usually, B refers to summer, N refers to winter, and M refers to spring and fall. These qualifiers are applied both to the regional ranks and to the national ranks. If a species does not engage in long-distance migrations, these qualifiers should not be used. There are five main situations:

  • The species stays year-round in the jurisdiction and does not migrate = normal rank without the B,N,M qualifiers (example: S4).
  • The species stays year-round and some individuals migrate = use all qualifiers B,N,M.
  • The species breeds and migrates (does not winter in the jurisdiction) = use qualifiers B,M.
  • The species winters and migrates (does not breed in the jurisdiction) = use qualifiers N,M.
  • The species only migrates through the jurisdiction = use only qualifier M.

These situations can often become complex. For example, only those birds that land on ocean waters during their migration will have a migrant qualifier in the oceans. Thus, a forest bird that flies over the Atlantic Ocean and does not land on the water will not have a rank in this ocean. Conversely, seabirds that lay their eggs on land will have their breeding qualifier in that province or territory, not in the ocean. However, whales that give birth in the ocean will have their breeding qualifier in the ocean.

Categories of trends

Since species are usually reassessed every five years, a comparison of the national ranks is possible with the previous Wild Species reports. This enables us to see if the species’ conservation status has changed over time. This will allow Canadians to begin to track patterns of improvement or decline through time, revealing which species are maintaining or improving their status and which are declining or facing new threats. Such patterns not only give a better indication of the nature and magnitude of a problem, but may also point the way to improved conservation practices. This comparison also highlights which information gaps have been filled, and where further information is still required.

The comparison between the various Wild Species reports is made by using rounded national ranks. The rounded ranks convert the range ranks into a single rank category, so that they are easier to compare. When range ranks have a difference of one interval, the most at risk rank becomes the rounded rank. For example, the rounded rank of N2N3 is N2, and the rounded rank of N4N5 is N4. When range ranks have a difference of two intervals, the middle rank becomes the rounded rank. For example, the rounded rank of N1N3 is N2, and the rounded rank of N3N5 is N4. When ranks have qualifiers, they are deleted in the rounded rank. For example, the rounded rank of N2? is N2. For migratory species, the rounded rank is based on the breeding qualifier. When there is no breeding qualifier, the rounded rank is based on the non-breeding qualifier. When there are no breeding and non-breeding qualifiers, the rounded rank is based on the migrant qualifier. For example, the rounded rank of N3B,NUM is N3.

Starting from the Wild Species 2015 report, the National General Status Working Group is using the ranking system of NatureServe. In the Wild Species 2000, 2005, and 2010 reports, a different customized ranking system was used. There is generally a good match between the rounded ranks of NatureServe and the categories of the previous General Status ranking system (Table 4). In this table, the ranks that are grouped are equivalent. To study trends, the previous national ranks of the Wild Species 2000, 2005 and 2010 reports were converted to the rounded national ranks of NatureServe. For example, if a species was ranked as undetermined (5) in 2005 and 2010, these national ranks were converted to unrankable (U). When there were two possibilities of ranks for the conversion, the same rank as in 2015 was selected to minimize the number of changes. For example, if a species was ranked as apparently secure (4) in 2015, and the species was ranked as secure (4) in 2010, the national rank of the Wild Species 2010 report was converted to apparently secure (4). For more information about the previous ranking system used by the National General Status Working Group, please consult the Wild Species 2010 report.

Table 4. Comparison of the NatureServe rounded ranks with the previous General Status ranking system.
Previous General Status ranking system NatureServe rounded ranks
Extinct (0.2) or Extirpated (0.1) Presumed Extirpated (X) or Possibly Extirpated (H)
At Risk (1) or May Be At Risk (2) Critically Imperiled (1) or Imperiled (2)
Sensitive (3) Vulnerable (3)
Secure (4) Apparently Secure (4) or Secure (5)
Undetermined (5) Unrankable (U)
Not Assessed (6) Unranked (NR)
Exotic (7) or Accidental (8) Not Applicable (NA)

When determining the trends of the species at the national level, the National General Status Working Group also specifies the reason for change by using six categories (Table 5). For example, if the population size of a species is reduced following the spread of a disease, the reason for change would be a biological change (B). For example, if the population size of a species is reduced following habitat losses, the reason for change would be a biological change (B). For example, if a species was added to the list because it recently extended its range into Canada, the reason for change would be a biological change (B). For example, if new studies revealed that the population size of a species is much larger than first anticipated, the reason for change would be an improved knowledge of the species (I). For example, if a species was recently discovered in Canada through new inventories, but the species was probably always here before, the reason for change would be an improved knowledge of the species (I). For example, if incorrect information was used to determine an earlier conservation status, the reason for change would be an error in previous rank (E). For example, if a species was misidentified and never occurred in Canada, and this information was known at the time of the assessment, the reason for change would be an error in previous rank (E). For example, if the ranking methodology was changed and this caused a difference in the rank when considering the same information, the reason for change would be a procedural change (P). In some situations, there can be an overlap between these categories. In such cases, only the main category is selected. For example, if new information was made available through a new COSEWIC assessment, the main reason for change would be the new COSEWIC assessment (C), not an improved knowledge. For example, if a species was split into two species following new taxonomic studies, the main reason for change would be a taxonomic change (T), not an improved knowledge.

Table 5. Reasons for changes in the national conservation status of species.
Code Reason for change
B Biological change in the population size, distribution, or threats of the species.
C New COSEWIC assessment.
E Error in previous rank.
I Improved knowledge of the species.
P Procedural change.
T Taxonomic change.

Helping COSEWIC to identify priority species

One of the goals of the program on the General Status of Species in Canada is to identify species that may be at risk. These species can be potential candidates for detailed assessments by COSEWIC. Because many species are assessed in the Wild Species reports, the National General Status Working Group has implemented a process to determine a priority score to identify the species that may be most at risk. This process is based on two factors. The first factor is the national rank. The species that have a national rank of NX, NH, N1 and N2 (including the range ranks) are considered in this process. The second factor is the percentage of the species range that occurs in Canada. This factor introduces an estimation of the Canadian responsibility. Even though it is important to maintain all species of Canada, for some species, the only place in the world where they can be found is here. We thus have a stronger responsibility toward these species, because if they disappear, they will be extinct forever. Other species that are present in Canada are also widespread in the United States of America for example, so the Canadian responsibility for these species is lower. A score is given to the classes of percentages of the range in Canada (Table 6). When combining the score of the national ranks and the score of the percentage of the range in Canada, we obtain a priority score (Table 7). The resulting priority score can vary from 1 to 10. The species that have a score of 1 have the highest priority and the species that have a score of 10 have a low priority.

Table 6. Canadian responsibility score based on the percentage of the range in Canada.
Score Percentage of the range in Canada
1 Endemic: 100% of the range in Canada.
2 Very high: 75 to 99% responsibility.
3 High: 51 to 74% responsibility.
4 Moderately high: 30 to 50% responsibility.
5 Intermediate: 11 to 29% responsibility.
6 Low and widespread: <10% of global responsibility but occurs over 30% of Canada.
7 Low and localized.

 

Table 7. Priority score given by the National General Status Working Group to identify the species that may be at risk in Canada. The species that have a score of 1 have the highest priority and the species that have a score of 10 have a low priority.
National rank score Responsibility
score 1
Responsibility
score 2
Responsibility
score 3
Responsibility
score 4
Responsibility
score 5
Responsibility
score 6
Responsibility
score 7
NX, NH, N1=1 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
N1N2, N1?=2 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
N2=3 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
N1N3, N2N3, N2?=4 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Development of common names

Did you know that most species do not have a common name? Common names are often developed when a species is of interest to the public or to researchers because of economic importance, conservation status, abundance, social significance, or other reasons. For example, many species of mammals and birds have common names, while few species of insects do. As our knowledge on the diversity of Canadian species increases, the need for common names becomes more and more important.

Common names usually have two parts: one part that describes the taxonomic group where the species is classified, and the other part that describes a specific characteristic of the species. For example, the common name of the species Hippodamia quinquesignata is the Five-spotted Lady Beetle, where the part “Lady Beetle” describes the family where the species is taxonomically classified, and the part “Five-spotted” describes a distinctive feature of the species. The scientific name often provides inspiration for the development of the common name. For example, quinquesignata means five-spotted. The specific characteristic can also describe the habitat used by the species, a specific behavior, the name of the region where it occurs, the name of the location where it was found, or the name of the person who discovered or is related to the species.

The National General Status Working Group is facilitating the establishment of common names for all species in Canada. When a specific taxonomic group is selected, common names in English and French are developed for all Canadian species in this group. One advantage of this approach is to make sure that the most appropriate name is given to each species, and it also enables consistency when developing the names. A review process has been put in place to develop common names for the species in Canada. At the beginning of the process, experts are hired to provide suggestions of common names for the species in the taxonomic groups that they study. English experts provide suggestions for English common names, and French experts provide suggestions for French common names. The suggested common names are then reviewed by the Canadian Wildlife Service (Environment and Climate Change Canada), especially to ensure that the taxonomic logic of the common names is rigorous. This step warrants the standardization of the part of the common names that describes the group where the species is taxonomically classified, and ensures for example that all species of lady beetles are called “lady beetle” in their common names. The suggested common names are then reviewed by the Terminology Standardization Division of the Translation Bureau of the Government of Canada. This step warrants a linguistic review of the common names, both in English and French. If appropriate, it also provides an opportunity to align the English and French common names, so that they have a similar meaning. The common names are then reviewed by the National General Status Working Group. A special committee, the General Status Common Names Committee, has been created to support the working group in this task. Once this comprehensive review process is completed, the common names are then published on the Wild Species website, on the TERMIUM Plus® website, and on many others. In the Wild Species 2015 report, common names have been developed for many of the species assessed. The taxonomic logic of the common names is also described in the database. Most of the time, the taxonomic level of the family has been selected.

Wild Species website

All the results of the program on the General Status of Species in Canada are available on the Wild Species website. Results are also integrated in the Species at Risk Public Registry of the federal government, in provincial and territorial websites, and in the NatureServe website. Appendix 3 lists the links of these websites.

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