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State of Biodiversity

The global decline of biodiversity is now recognized as one of the most serious environmental issues facing humanity. The state of biodiversity can assessed in terms of the health of both ecosystems and species.

Ecosystem Health

In terms of the health of world ecosystems, the United Nations’ Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which includes a biodiversity synthesis, concludes that “the changes that have been made to ecosystems have contributed to substantial net gains in human well-being and economic development, but these gains have been achieved at growing costs in the form of the degradation of many ecosystem services [such as clean water, food, forest products, flood control, and natural resources].”

“The bottom line of the MEA findings is that human actions are depleting Earth’s natural capital, putting such strain on the environment that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted. At the same time, the assessment shows that with appropriate actions it is possible to reverse the degradation of many ecosystem services over the next 50 years, but the changes in policy and practice required are substantial and not currently underway.”

Indicators of ecosystem health are diverse and complex. However, the ability of an ecosystem to function effectively and continue to provide those essential ecological goods and services accounts for a good portion of the most common indicators e.g. water and air quality.

Species Health

Another important indicator of ecosystem health is the status of wildlife species dependent on a particular ecosystem. Status can be determined in terms of the presence or absence of certain species, species known to be at risk or sensitive to changes in their environment, the general health of a species, a species population numbers (relative abundance) and general diversity.

Globally, amphibians and pollinators appear to be showing declines in populations. For example, in Alberta, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development notes that declines in some amphibian species have already been documented, most notably for the northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens) which vanished from many sites around the province in the late 1970’s, and the Canadian toad (Bufo hemiophrys), which has declined in the parkland regions.

In Canada, there are now 565 species listed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in various risk categories, including 235 Endangered, 143 Threatened, 152 Special Concern, and 22 Extirpated Species (i.e. no longer found in the wild in Canada).

Photo credit Ronda Hermann Stickel.





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