Only in Canada – report details endemic species

The Bert’s predaceous diving beetle, large-headed woolly yarrow, false northwestern moonwort and Queen Charlotte hairy woodpecker have one thing in common.

They are only found in Canada.

This country has 308 endemic plant and animal species, those that are found nowhere else in the world. Of those, the Prairies are home to 121 of them and British Columbia alone harbours 105.

Ours to Save, a report released June 4, is the first comprehensive list of Canadian endemic species ever to be compiled and was done through Nature Conservancy Canada and NatureServe Canada.

“There really wasn’t kind of a one-stop list that tried to document and map where these species occur in Canada,” said Dan Kraus, senior conservation biologist with NCC.

“There has been some work done in other countries. There was one for the United States that we found, which was part of the reason why we thought if they have one there, we really do need one in Canada.”

On the list are 149 invertebrates, mostly insects, and 109 plants, 21 mammals, 11 birds, nine mosses and liverworts, five lichens and fungi and four fish.

Alberta lays claim as home to 54 endemic species, 18 of which can be found only in that province. The list includes several ants, caddis flies and beetles.

Saskatchewan has 36 endemic species, 10 of which are only found in that province. On its list are various willows and hawthorns.

Manitoba has 31 endemic species, seven of them living exclusively within that province’s borders. The list includes several weevils and other invertebrates.

The report ranks each species relative to its security or level of vulnerability. Many are unranked due to lack of information.

“We’re hoping that the report will be used by researchers and universities and museums and maybe even inspire students that are in ecology and evolution and biology to take up the work of doing more discovery about these species and where they live and what their habitat needs are,” said Kraus.

“It’s also just to inspire Canadians a little bit. I think most Canadians, if you asked them to name an endangered species, they won’t even name something from our own country.”

Many species on the list are considered vulnerable to extinction. Kraus said he hopes the federal government will use the information in its plan to designate 17 percent of the country as protected, in keeping with a United Nations commitment on biological diversity.

“These are plants and animals that only occur here and it will only be up to Canada to decide if they’re protected or not,” Kraus said. “If we lose them from Canada they’re gone. There is no plan B for them.”

Canada has lost species before but because they existed elsewhere, the country was able to re-establish them. The swift fox and wild turkey are two examples. Canada brought some of them from the United States. That is not an option with endemic species.

“If we lose these species there’s nobody we can go to, to try to bring them back.”

There are many species on the list with low populations and relatively small areas of habitat. The Banff Springs snail lives only in certain mineral waters within Banff National Park, for example. The Haida Gwaii slug is similarly restricted to that region.

“We know that many of these species do have small populations or they live just in small areas of the country and that small population and small range are important factors that make species vulnerable to extinction,” said Kraus.

Map via natureconservancy.ca

The report identified 27 “hot spots” in Canada where there are several endemic species, many of them vulnerable and more than half located in the settled part of the country. On the Prairies, hot spots include the Cypress Hills, Lake Athabasca, Jasper, Banff and Waterton.

B.C. hotspots include Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii and Okanagan Similkameen.

The report was released to coincide with Canadian Environment Week, although the team responsible thought long and hard about releasing it when so many are distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early in 2020, it appeared conservation and biodiversity were going to receive major international emphasis and Kraus hopes that will return and perhaps be increased as people affected by the pandemic gain a greater appreciation for nature.

“Before the pandemic started there was a lot of talk about 2020 being the big year for nature. There seemed to be a lot of initiatives and not just from traditional conservation organizations either but even groups like the World Economic Forum identified biodiversity loss as one of the key factors threatening our economy and our well being.”

Even as Ours to Save was being written, changes were occurring as more species were described or discovered and taxonomy changed. Kraus described the list of endemic species as a moving target that will updated on-line as information comes in.

The full report can be found at www.natureconservancy.ca/ourstosave.

Contact barb.glen@producer.com

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