Significant Canadian wildlife declines revealed in new WWF-Canada study
Canada’s wildlife are in trouble, and those species that are declining are suffering deep losses, new research from WWF-Canada shows.
The Living Planet Report Canada, published today, is the most comprehensive synthesis of Canadian wildlife population trends ever conducted. It shows that on average from 1970 to 2014, half of monitored vertebrate wildlife species in the study suffered population declines. Of those, average decline is 83 per cent since 1970.
The picture is also worrisome for Canada’s federally protected species. Since 2002, when the Species at Risk Act became law, federally listed at-risk wildlife populations declined by 28 per cent, the report shows. Even with protections, the rate of decline for protected at-risk wildlife appears to be increasing to 2.7 per cent per year, compared with 1.7 per cent per year in the period 1970 to 2002.
What is a Living Planet Index?
Much like a stock market index measures economic performance, a Living Planet Index measures ecological performance using wildlife population trends over time. It is created by synthesizing records of population size for a variety of monitored vertebrate species to report relative change, on average, over time.
What’s included in Canada’s Living Planet Index?
- More than 400 sources of data.
- 3,689 monitored populations between 1970 and 2014.
- 903 monitored vertebrate species (106 mammal species, 386 bird species, 365 fish species and 46 amphibians and reptiles).
- Invertebrate wildlife is not included, as only a small fraction of this large group has long-term monitoring data.
- Mammals: Populations dropped 43 per cent.
- Amphibians and reptiles: Populations dropped 34 per cent.
- Fish: Populations declined by 20 per cent.
- Birds: While some groups of birds are showing signs of recovery, others aren’t faring as well. Monitored populations of grassland birds dropped 69 per cent, aerial insectivores fell 51 per cent, and shorebird populations declined by 43 per cent.
Atlantic region: Atlantic marine fish populations fell 38 per cent.
Amphibian and reptile populations declined 16 per cent.
Looking just at Lake Ontario, fish populations declined 32 per cent, on average, between 1992 and 2014.
Prairie region: Grassland bird populations declined 55 per cent.
Pacific region: Freshwater populations (birds, mammals, fish, amphibians and reptiles that live in or depend on freshwater ecosystems) declined 14 per cent.
Arctic region: Poor data availability on population abundance from 1970 to 1975 contributed to inconclusive results in this region.
What’s contributing to the decline?
Habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, pollution, unsustainable harvest and invasive species are the key contributors to wildlife decline. Together, effects of these stressors are cumulative (simultaneous and additive) and cascading (changes in one species triggers changes in another).
By helping to monitor wildlife as citizen scientists and protect and restore habitats, individuals taking action collectively will help reverse the decline of wildlife across Canada. Individuals can also embrace a low-carbon lifestyle and support changes needed by communities, industry and governments.
Collect and share information on ecosystems:
Without accurate information, meaningful decisions to protect wildlife can’t be made and we can’t learn from the results of our efforts.
Better understand climate change: New knowledge will allow us to build evidence-based strategies for mitigating climate-change impacts and for enhancing ecosystem resilience.
Take ecosystem-based action and bolster the Species at Risk Act: Single-species conservation is too resource-intensive to be scaled for hundreds of species at risk. It’s essential we take an ecosystems-based approach that takes into account multiple species (including predators and prey) and their habitats.
In early 2018, WWF-Canada will convene a National Summit to Reverse the Decline of Wildlife to bring together community groups, academics and researchers, governments, Indigenous organizations, industry leaders, financial organizations, the arts community, international guests and others to combat wildlife loss in Canada.
David Miller, WWF-Canada president and CEO, says:
“The closer we looked, the more we realized wildlife loss isn’t some other country’s problem. It’s a Canadian problem. It’s a problem we can all work to solve together. Stopping wildlife loss in Canada will take commitment from individuals, industry, communities and all levels of government. People do have the power to make a difference by becoming citizen scientists, restoring habitat, embracing a low-carbon lifestyle and supporting the decisions that government, industry and communities need to make. By taking action we can, collectively, ensure more wildlife don’t land on the at-risk list in the first place.”
James Snider, WWF-Canada vice-president of science, research and innovation, WWF-Canada, says:
“As human interactions transform the natural world, biological diversity is undergoing significant declines. Tackling wildlife conservation in the face of increasing development pressures and climate change requires comprehensive data. We can’t measure the impact of stressors, and the success of protection efforts, if we don’t know what’s happening with wildlife populations now. We need a systematically designed monitoring system and the means to respond effectively to the findings. The framework can be created collectively by communities, research institutions, environmental groups and governments, and then populated with data collected by citizen scientists, community groups and researchers from coast to coast to coast. We also need to be willing to embrace new technologies like environmental DNA that make it so much easier for more Canadians to get involved in collecting data.
“All of this is even more important considering the increasing and accelerating impacts of climate change. When you consider that the two ecosystems in Canada that are the least well-studied – freshwater and Arctic – are also the two areas climate change is expected to alter the most dramatically, the need becomes even more urgent.”
Living Planet Report Canada is generously supported by the Patrick and Barbara Keenan Foundation.
About World Wildlife Fund Canada
WWF-Canada creates solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that nature, wildlife and people thrive together. Because we are all wildlife. For more information, visit wwf.ca.
For further information, please contact
Philippe Devos, director of communications, firstname.lastname@example.org, +1 416-453-0092
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