|Biological Diversity||Ecosystem Condition and Productivity||Soil and Water||Role in Global Ecological Cycles||Economic and Social Benefits||Society's Responsibility|
|Ecosystem Diversity||Species Diversity||Genetic Diversity|
1.1 Ecosystem Diversity
Diversity is a building block for sustainability. Just as having a diversified economic base makes it easier for communities and countries to adapt to global market changes, biological diversity, or biodiversity, makes it possible for organisms and ecosystems to respond and adapt to environmental change. The conservation of biodiversity is, therefore, an absolute necessity to ensure that forests are managed sustainably. Biodiversity comprises the variability found among living organisms and the ecosystems that harbor them. This variability can be assessed at different levels, ranging from the diversity of ecosystems across the planet, to the abundance of species within each ecosystem and, finally, to the wealth of genetic material found within each species.
Forest ecosystems are shaped by dynamic processes. The populations, species, forest types, and age classes that comprise Canada’s forests are determined through cycles of disturbance and renewal. Maintaining biodiversity entails examining ecosystems at many levels of organization and at different time and spatial scales. It also involves making land use and resource management decisions that incorporate biodiversity needs, such as limiting the conversion of forests to agricultural and urban lands, creating protected areas, managing the harvest of forest plants and animals, preventing the invasion of foreign insects and diseases, and protecting wildlife habitat through well-planned forest management activities.
This criterion provides information on the conservation of Canada’s forest biodiversity at the ecosystem, species, and genetic level. Element 1.1 (Ecosystem Diversity) examines the range and extent of softwood, mixedwood, and hardwood forest cover on crown lands in Canada and examines efforts to protect representative examples of our diverse forest ecosystems. Maintenance of the natural range of ecosystems, and the ability of their components to react to external forces and processes, provide the equilibrium required for the maintenance of biological diversity. Element 1.2 (Species Diversity) is concerned with the status of forest-dependent animal and plant species as well as determining possible threats to their survival. Knowing that certain species are vulnerable or threatened may suggest changes in forest management and other measures to restore biological diversity. Element 1.3 (Genetic Diversity) looks at efforts to maintain the genetic diversity of Canada’s forests, ensuring that species maintain viability through their capacity to evolve and adapt to change.
Canada’s forests represent about 10% of the world’s forests and about 30% of the world’s boreal forest. The diverse ecosystems of Canada’s native forests span a wide range of climates—the lush Carolinian forests of southern Ontario; the sparse strings of trees along Arctic rivers; the rain forests of the west coast; and the dry ponderosa pine forests of interior British Columbia. Typically, Canada’s forest management involves maintaining seminatural forests composed of native tree species. The forests are largely dominated by coniferous species, but deciduous species are frequent. Canada’s protected areas contain representative examples of most forest ecosystems.
According to a taxonomic census carried out by the Canadian Museum of Nature, Canada is home to approximately 140 000 species, only half of which have been described (Mosquin et al. 1995). Approximately two thirds of these species, most of which are insects or other arthropods, occur in forest ecosystems. A little over 300 forest-associated species are considered to be at risk of extinction, primarily due to habitat loss, but the number continues to grow as more data and information become available. Most species identified as being at risk are protected under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. Given the size of the country and the number of species involved, it is perhaps not surprising that we still have much to learn about biodiversity, particularly about the lower plants, invertebrates, and soil microbes.
Genetic diversity provides the material needed for evolutionary change and is the ultimate source of biodiversity at all levels. Efforts to document, track, and protect Canada’s forest genetic diversity are expanding. Provinces and territories are improving their information systems, storing genetic samples, and carefully managing their reforestation efforts to ensure that the genetic diversity of the forest is not compromised by forest management activities.
Much work has been done across the country to improve our understanding of Canada’s forest biodiversity and maintain it for future generations. Canada, along with many other nations, signed the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. The convention has three main objectives: the conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of its components; and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits that arise out of the use of genetic resources. Provincial, territorial, and other governments are collaborating to implement the Canadian component of the convention in their own way.