Despite its northerly position, Canada is rich in diversity because of its size (some 10 million km2 land and freshwater and 6.5 million km2 marine waters), varied environments (see NATURAL REGIONS), topographies and climates. ECOSYSTEMS include temperate rain forest treetop canopies, prairies, tundra, soil types, rivers, tide pools, kelp forests, 2 m thick sea ice and deep-sea hydrothermal vents.
There are 71 000 species described by science in Canada (excluding VIRUSES), while another estimated 69 000 species remain to be named and classified by scientists, or recorded for the first time. If viruses are included, the number of estimated species would be doubled. About 51% of Canada's species are terrestrial, 23% freshwater and 25%. If we look at the higher groupings, like phyla, then 66% occur on land, 72% in freshwater and 84% in marine waters. The finer twigs of the tree of life are land-dwelling, while the major branches are marine. There are probably several thousand species at risk (vulnerable, threatened or endangered) or already lost (extirpated or extinct).
In 1990, biological resources, the part of biodiversity that people directly use, were determined to be worth some $70 billion, even before much value is added. Biological resources include timber, agricultural crops, sport fisheries, blueberries, wild mushrooms, maple syrup, antibiotics, beer, bread and insect pollination ($1 billion). Biodiversity sustains much of our tourist industry. A host of new biotechnological and pharmaceutical products are being developed from living genetic resources, eg, cancer-combating taxol from the western YEW, hitherto considered a weed tree by foresters.
Just as important as directly used biological resources are the indirectly beneficial ecological services. Ecological services include water purification, flood control, production of oxygen, pollination, provision of habitat for other species, soil creation and recycling of plant nutrients. The value of ecological services is difficult to grasp, but essential for local and planetary support services and human survival.
Biodiversity is being lost through several processes. These include habitat loss (deforestation and plowing down of the prairies), over-harvesting of resources, pollution (ACID RAIN, eutrophication), introduction of exotic species (zebra mussels), urbanization, fragmentation of habitat (proliferation of roads), GLOBAL WARMING and others.
The root causes include growth of human populations, high levels of resource use, greed, ignorance, inappropriate resource use and industrial practices. New ecological approaches to agriculture, forestry, fisheries, manufacturing and consumer consumption offers practical yet environmentally friendly solutions.
Canada was a lead player in the development of the International Convention on Biological Diversity; the first country to sign it and the first developed country to ratify it (1992). This momentous international agreement deals with conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from them.
In 1996 the federal and provincial governments, nongovernmental and trade organizations and other groups released an agreement on how to achieve the goals of the Convention. All levels of Canadian society contribute to implementing the Convention in Canada. A new piece of federal legislation on endangered species and their habitats is being developed. Federal and provincial protected area legislation helps save representative ecosystems on land, in freshwater and the ocean - the latter as yet poorly represented. At the grass-roots level, environmental organizations have an important track record. They are active in public awareness and education, conservation, ecologically sustainable use and other areas.
The basic knowledge needed for biodiversity conservation, sustainable use, new technologies and education is produced by natural history museums, universities, government departments and environmental organizations. As less than half of Canada's species are scientifically described and we know the ecological requirements of only a few species, much research is needed.
Biodiversity is Canada's most valuable heritage.
See also, BIOSPHERE RESERVES;CANADIAN NATURE FEDERATION; COSEWIC; ENDANGERED ANIMALS; ENDANGERED PLANTS; ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSERVATION MOVEMENTS; PARKS, NATIONAL; PARKS, PROVINCIAL; and WORLD WILDLIFE FUND CANADA.
Author DON E. MCALLISTER
M. Hummel, ed, Endangered Spaces: The Future for Canada's Wilderness (1989); D. McAllister, The Green School Biodiversity Booklet (1995); T. Mosquin, P. Whiting and McAllister, Canada's Biodiversity (1995).
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Museum of Nature
The website for the Canadian Museum of Nature. Check out the online multimedia features and the latest news about museum exhibits, collections, research activities, and events.
Natural History Notebooks
View illustrated descriptions of a huge variety of Canadian animal species, prehistoric creatures, and endangered/extinct animals. A Canadian Museum of Nature website.
Canadian Biodiversity Website
A great information source for all budding biologists. Learn about biodiversity theory, natural history, and conservation issues. From McGill’s Redpath Museum.
A Canadian website focusing on global biosystematics, biodiversity, and related issues.
The Great Lakes Atlas
This very extensive website covers the history, geography, ecology, and just about everything else you may want to know about the Great Lakes. A joint production of Environment Canada and the American E.P.A.
Invasive plants of natural habitats in Canada
An integrated review of wetland and upland species and legislation governing their control. From the Canadian Wildlife Service.
Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario
This online slide show captures the striking beauty of Pukaskwa National Park in Ontario. Part of the “Canada's Aquatic Environments” website from the University of Guelph.
An online travel guide covering popular destinations and recreational opportunities in Northern Ontario.
Bedford Institute of Oceanography
The website for the Bedford Institute of Oceanography. Features many research reports, maps, diagrams and multimedia resources about oceanography. Also profiles the Canadian Coast Guard survey vessels stationed at the Institute. Check the informative “Program Overview” before searching this very extensive site.
The State of Canada's Birds
The State of Canada's Birds report offers a comprehensive picture of the current health of bird populations in Canada.
Quebec Society for the Protection of Plants
The Society brings together researchers from universities and federal and provincial governments, agronomists, biologists, professional foresters, technologists, students, as well as any person interested in plant protection. Members of the Society are concerned with theoretical and practical aspects of plant protection.
NatureServe Canada provides scientific information about Canada’s species and ecosystems to help guide effective conservation action and natural resource management.
Bird Studies Canada
The website for “Bird Studies Canada,” an organization dedicated to preserving wild birds and their habitats. Search this site for the latest information on bird sightings and populations, checklists and maps, species at risk, and more.
Census of Marine Life
The website for the Census of Marine Life, an international network of researchers engaged in a 10-year scientific assessment of the diversity, distribution, and abundance of life in the oceans. Features an image gallery and video clips of previous expeditions and interviews with Census scientists.
Arctic Ocean Diversity Census of Marine Life
An international collaborative effort to inventory biodiversity in the Arctic sea ice, water column, and sea floor.
Glossary: Coastal Habitats
A glossary of terms related to the ecology of Atlantic Canada's diverse coastal habitats. From Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
A detialed glossary of zoological terms. From the French National Institute for Agricultural Research.
Glossary: Natural History
Click on the links to access bilingual glossaries about natural history. From the Canadian Museum of Nature.
Convention on Biological Diversity
An extensive resource about international policies and initiatives related to environmental conservation and biodiversity. Click on "International Year of Biodiversity" for news about special events on biodiversity.
Tree of Life
Explore the diversity of Earth's life forms at the Tree of Life website. Also includes beautiful photographs, an extensive glossary of biological terms, and "Treehouses" for younger readers.
The North Atlantic Oscillation
An academic paper about the North Atlantic Oscillation, described as the "large-scale seesaw behaviour in sea-level atmospheric pressure fields," and its influence on ocean climate and marine biodiversity. From the website for Integrated Science Data Management, Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Biodiversity Heritage Library
View online copies of "legacy literature" concerning biological, ecological, and agricultural topics at the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) website. Search "Canada" or "Canadians" for books about Canada.