If you’ve ever heard the howl of an eastern wolf while camping in Algonquin Park, you’ve had the honour of crossing paths with a truly Canadian species. There’s only one country in the world where you can find the eastern wolf, or the Pacific Steller’s Jay, the Peary caribou, and the Atlantic whitefish—and that’s Canada. A report from the Nature Conservancy of Canada and NatureServe Canada identified 308 plant and animal species, subspecies, and varieties that are found only in Canada. This first-of-its-kind list showcases the variety of endemic plants and animals whose future survival is uniquely Canada’s responsibility.
Biodiversity loss, or the loss of species, is occurring both globally and at home in Canada. This loss has led to our time period being dubbed the “Sixth Extinction,” says Dan Kraus, a senior conservation biologist at Nature Conservancy of Canada and co-author of the report. But while past extinctions had natural disasters like meteors and volcanic eruptions causing problems for critters like trilobites and Tyrannosaurus rex, today’s species are in hot water because of human activity.
Kraus hopes that the report will bring awareness to the unique Canadian species that don’t exist anywhere else on the planet. After all, when it comes to endemic species, it is a “one hundred per cent full-Canadian responsibility to look after them.”
Endemic species are vulnerable to extinction because they tend to have very small ranges and/or population sizes, says Kraus. “Particularly those found in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, we know that’s the part of Canada that’s changing most rapidly from climate change,” says Kraus, making it “a little less certain they’re not at risk of extinction.”
One of the endemic species Canada is responsible for is the eastern wolf. The eastern wolf is a difficult species to pin down visually without genetic data because of its ability to hybridize with both grey wolves and coyotes. Because of human persecution, the range of the eastern wolf has shrunk to almost exclusively Algonquin Park. Their future remains at risk due to continued habitat loss, trapping, and poaching.
The provinces of British Columbia, Quebec, Alberta, and the Yukon boast the highest number of endemic species. The unique habitats and isolated environments found in these provinces may have provided the right conditions for species to adapt and change.
Canada’s ice age past also influenced where endemic species are found today, says Kraus. Areas that were ice-free during the last glacial period acted as isolated refugia, sanctuaries where plants and animals could survive the ice age.
Creating a list of endemic species was only possible with data provided by NatureServe Canada, says Kraus. A registered charity, NatureServe Canada has a network of Conservation Data Centres, one for each province and territory (with the exception of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador, with are grouped together under the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre). The data centres compile biological inventories and maintain an up-to-date resource about the plants and animals that call Canada home.