What is Biodiversity and Why is It Important?
Biodiversity is a term used to describe the number and variety of organisms found within a given geographic region. Ecosystems that have a wide variety of plants and animals tend to be healthier than those with a low level of biodiversity. Healthy ecosystems are dynamic and able to adapt to more easily to naturally changing conditions. However, rapidly changing conditions caused by human activity have the potential to harm the natural environment and disrupt biodiversity.
Making an effort to conserve biodiversity is important because we are all reliant on a healthy, natural environment for our chief resources, including water to drink, food to eat, and air to breathe.
Humans Disrupt Biodiversity in Four Major Ways:
- Habitat degradation and loss;
- Introduction of invasive species;
- Unsustainable use of resources.
Even though high biodiversity is normally associated with a healthy environment, some important habitats associated with healthy watersheds naturally have a low diversity of plants and animals. This low biodiversity is often the result of natural low nutrient levels and harsh conditions (such as drought and freezing), as seen with sand dune and alvar habitats. An alvar is a globally rare environment found in a few areas around the Great Lakes in Canada, and is based on a limestone plain with thin or no soil and sparse vegetation. Alvars provide habitat for birds, rare plants, and butterflies, whose habitat is declining elsewhere.
Despite limited biodiversity within these areas, their uniqueness adds to the overall biodiversity of the watershed.
What is Conservation Halton Doing about Biodiversity?
To maintain a healthy environment, it is important that we strive to prevent the loss of biodiversity. Conservation Halton is committed to conserving biodiversity by protecting natural spaces, creating wildlife corridors, and increasing public awareness. These efforts are focused in the following areas:
Development proposals and environmental planning
- The way we plan and build our cities, our communities, and our homes affects our natural environment;
- Increased population growth can have a major effect on biodiversity through habitat loss;
- To maintain a high level of biodiversity in Halton’s watersheds, it is important that growth is managed in a proactive and environmentally responsible manner;
- Conservation Halton is committed to supporting development decisions that protect the natural features of our watershed and enhance our ecosystem;
- Conservation Halton’s Planning and Regulations Department reviews development proposals to determine how proposed works may impact upon and/or be impacted by the natural environment.
Long-term environmental monitoring
- Good data is of great assistance in making decisions regarding biodiversity;
- In 2005, Conservation Halton’s Long Term Environmental Monitoring Programwas formalized to guide information collection on species, ecosystems, and changes to the environment over time;
- The information collected gives ecologists and land-use planners much of the information they need to set targets and make informed decisions in environmental planning, and in managing and/or rehabilitating the watershed’s natural resources.
- Increased urbanization and land management practices have led to a gradual loss of a large percentage of quality forest and woodland habitats throughout the Greater Toronto Area; loss of this valuable habitat has led to a reduction of native plant and wildlife species in the area;
- Remaining woodlands have been severely encroached upon or become fragmented; many bird and animal species require large areas of forest for foraging, and for breeding; fragmented and small pockets of forest do not meet the habitat requirements of sensitive species;
- Conservation Halton’s forest management efforts focus on the health and diversity of the forest ecosystem, and include restoration actions when required; to date, Conservation Halton has acquired more than 3,600 hectares of conservation lands that are being protected;
- Conservation Halton staff use sound, sustainable forest management practices involving silviculture (growing and cultivating trees) and wildlife habitat improvements, and thereby contribute to the biodiversity and health of the watershed’s natural environment;
- Over the past 50 years, Conservation Halton has planted more than 2.25 million trees; each year, thousands of trees and shrubs are planted within the watershed by Conservation Halton staff and partners in conservation, and by landowners who participate in Conservation Halton forestry and stewardship programs.
- There are a number of invasive species in Halton Region (and maybe in your backyard) that threaten biodiversity (including one, Giant Hogweed, that can cause serious skin irritations);
- Conservation Halton is involved in raising awareness about invasive species;
- Invasive species can impact and lower overall biodiversity by overwhelming and out competing the local native species in their habitat;
- Invasive plants will frequently reduce biodiversity to such an extent that only a monotypic community remains (where the invasive species is the only plant growing).
Species at risk
- We are fortunate to live in an area with many natural areas and a large variety of wild animals and plants. But this biodiversity is in trouble. More than 190 species in Ontario are considered species at risk; a number of those find their home in Conservation Halton’s watershed;
- Species at risk is a designation given to plant and animal species that are threatened with extinction, extirpation, or endangerment in a given geographic region;
- Conservation Halton aims to increase awareness and knowledge of species at risk and encourages stewardship actions to protect and preserve these species in the Conservation Halton watershed.
Learn More and Get Involved!
There are a number of ways you can learn more about diversity in our watershed or get involved and support Conservation Halton efforts to enhance and protect biodiversity in our watershed. For more information:
- Sign up for Word on the Watershed, Conservation Halton’s monthly newsletter;
- Search for and identify many of the wild species in the watershed;
- Optimize your garden for local butterflies and wildlife;
- Check out the events calendar to see new, exciting opportunities that are coming up;
- Peruse the Education and Volunteer and Community pages, where you will find many opportunities (including children’s programs) to learn, experience, and get involved;
Additional Biodiversity Information Resources
- Ontario Biodiversity Council;
- Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy: "Protecting What Sustains Us”;
- Great Lakes Conservation Blueprint for Biodiversity;
- Biodiversity and Education Awareness Network;
- BiodivCanada.ca: The website of the federal, provincial, and territorial working group on biodiversity;
- Environment Canada efforts in preserving wilderness areas that support healthy and diverse wildlife populations;
- The international Convention on Biological Diversity;
- 2011 to 2020, the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity;
- What happened in 2010, the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity.