Before we know where we should be putting our conservation effort, we need to have an understanding of what we have.

The results from Taking Nature’s Pulse: The Status of Biodiversity in British Columbia, a milestone report and the companion Biodiversity Atlas of BC, provide a context and source of information for taking action to conserve biodiversity in British Columbia.

This information provides a science-based foundation from a provincial context which gives us the best available information to assist British Columbians, including The Nature Trust, in making informed choices regarding biodiversity.

The overall message is that biodiversity in BC is still in relatively good shape but vulnerable to deterioration unless we make changes in the way we use and relate to the natural world. To view the report Taking Nature’s Pulse: The Status of Biodiversity in British Columbia, go to www.biodiversitybc.org

What Is Biodiversity?

Biodiversity (short for “biological diversity”) refers to the number, variety, and variability of all living things. Biodiversity is the variety of life in an area, which can range from life in a pool of water that collects between the leaves of a plant to the all-encompassing biosphere.

There are many levels of organization that identifies biodiversity. These include the genetic diversity of populations, the number and types of species, the distribution and abundance of species communities and ecosystems, and the interactions between organisms with their physical environment.

Our biodiversity serves as a foundation not only for our economy, but for a wide range of recreational, cultural, and spiritual activities as well.

Marian Adair, Habitat Ecologist

Species Diversity in British Columbia

Because of the diversity of ecosystems in British Columbia, a large number of the total number of species in Canada is found here. Of all the Canadian provinces and territories, BC is home to the richest diversity of vascular plants, mosses, mammals, butterflies and breeding birds, and the largest number of species of reptiles, tiger beetles and amphibians found only in one province or territory. BC is known to have a majority of the global range for 99 species. In fact, the Vancouver Island Marmot is found nowhere else in the world. BC has the largest population of grizzly bears of any province or state apart from Alaska. There are at least eight insect species that are found only in the South Okanagan. Almost the entire world population of the shorebird, Western Sandpiper, and North Pacific population of the Humpback Whale migrate along the British Columbia coast.

Many of the species in British Columbia are at risk of extinction. Of the 3,808 native species in BC for which conservation status has been assessed,

  • 233 species (6%) are of global conservation concern and
  • 1,640 species (43%) are of provincial conservation concern.

The Provincial Government, through the BC Conservation Data Centre (CDC), identifies species of provincial concern as

  • red-listed, which are either extirpated, endangered, or threatened and are considered to be the most at risk, or
  • blue-listed, which are considered to be vulnerable to human activities and natural disturbance.

The species at risk lists identify species that are in need of protection. However, BC has no endangered species legislation and currently federal laws only protect migratory birds in Canada.

There are potentially many more species at risk that have not been included on the current lists because of a lack of ecological data. More than 50,000 different species (not including single-celled organisms) exist in BC, but only about 3,800 of these have been assessed for their conservation status.

Maintaining Biodiversity

Most of the Red- and Blue-listed species in British Columbia occur in the Southern Interior and Georgia Basin. These areas have high human population densities, which is a contributing factor to species endangerment. Other areas with lower human population densities that are not as species-rich are still extremely important for maintaining BC’s biodiversity. Large, contiguous ecosystems, such as grassland, forest or wetlands, provide habitat that can maintain viable populations of commonly occurring species and prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened. The potential loss of wide-ranging, common species, like the Downy Woodpecker, which excavates cavities that are used by secondary nesters such as owls and squirrels, could dramatically alter ecological processes and species relationships throughout British Columbia.