Are You At Risk? | Carolinian Canada

Are You At Risk?

  1. Introduction
  2. Where is Carolinian Canada?
  3. Thinking Big

Well over 100 years ago, Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-founder of the theory of evolution by natural selection, wrote that we live in a zoologically impoverished world, from which all the hugest and fiercest and strangest forms have recently disappeared. This was written by an explorer who spent most of his life in the vast jungles of South American and East Asia. The Carolinian Life Zone is Canadas jungle with more plants and animals than any other place in the country. In southern Ontario, we are rich in species and fascinating wild places. We also have a big job: to care for all our wild plants and animals, from microbes to mammals, and help them survive into the next century.

Vast changes have occurred in the Carolinian landscape, mostly through intense settlement. Our wild species now share less than 1% of Canadas land mass with one quarter of our countrys population. From massive land clearing over a century ago to current intense urbanization and urban sprawl, little thought has been given to planning for the future of wild species. The Carolinian Canada Coalition brought the plight of species-at-risk in the Carolinian Life Zone to national public attention in 1984. Since then, hundreds of communities, organizations, individuals, property owners have taken action to reduce threats to wild places in their part of the zone. All levels of government are now active in protecting critical areas. The new Species-at-Risk Act (SARA) provides protection and incentive to conserve wild species.

Over one third of Canadas Species-at-Risk are found in the Carolinian Life Zone. How do we protect thousands of species as our natural areas become more and more fragmented and over-used? It is impossible to save them one species at a time. Increasingly, the focus is on saving natural habitats and ecosystems. By saving one original forest or wetland, you will be saving hundreds of species which have developed in that place over thousands of years. By choosing to walk rather than bicycle through a natural area, you are protecting the integrity of that habitat and making it safer for the one more wild species, which is sensitive to disturbance. By planting a marginal strip with native trees, you are helping to build a natural heritage system.

A natural ecosystem or habitat is more than just the sum of its parts. As many noted scientists point out, we cannot survive without wild plants and animals. Our culture grew out of our natural resources and depends on plants and animals for food, clean air and water, and our health. By letting our wild species dwindle we are limiting our options into the next millennia, as climates and landscapes continue to change.

Biodiversity, our wealth of wild plants and animals, is critical to our health and well-being and the future of our communities. Species at risk, at the levels we see today, are a warning and symptom of an unbalanced landscape.

This booklet is a snapshot of some of the rarest and most unusual wild species found in the Carolinian life zone and gives ideas about how you can help.

There is no untouched land in the Carolinian Life Zone. Wild species will always share their habitats with us. Can we share our land with our wild neighbours? Read on and decide for yourself.

Where is Carolinian Canada?

The Carolinian Life Zone, popularly known as Carolinian Canada, is the portion of southern Ontario south of an imaginary line extending roughly from just north of Grand Bend on Lake Huron to Toronto on Lake Ontario. Cradled by the Great Lakes, which act as a giant heat sink modifying extremes of heat and cold, the Carolinian Zone is often referred to as Canadas deep south or the banana belt due to its relatively moderate climate. As a result, the Point Pelee area experiences 170 frost free days compared to 135 days at Guelph. The moderate climate, adequate rainfall, long day length and rich glacial soils combine to create the conditions for an area of great richness.

Although this zone is a transition between north, south, east and west life zones, its greatest attraction stems from its position as the northern limit of many southern species found nowhere else in Canada. Some are well known, especially the so-called Carolinian trees which include the Tulip-tree, Sassafras, Sycamore and Black Walnut but there are many others with distinctly southern or exotic names: Pawpaw, Black Gum, Honey Locust, Kentucky Coffee-tree and Red Mulberry. Flowering plants of southern affinities include Green Dragon and Virginian Bluebell. Birds that reach their northern limits in the Carolinian Zone include the Prothonotary Warbler, Acadian Flycatcher and White-eyed Vireo.

Carolinian Canada @ Risk

While the Carolinian Life Zone has the highest diversity of habitats and species in Canada it also contains the most threatened habitats and the highest number of Species at Risk. Over 50 species have disappeared and another 500 species are currently considered to be at risk, with more added to this list each year as our knowledge increases about the status of various species.

The United Nations Environment Program considers that the two worst threats to native species and habitats are habitat loss and invasive species. Forest cover has declined from 80% to less about 30% in Norfolk County and less than 3% in Essex County. Wetlands have decreased from 25% to about 5% of the land base. Almost all Tallgrass Prairie and Savannah have been cleared. Wave after wave of alien species has invaded natural areas in Carolinian Canada. Some, such as Zebra Mussels profoundly affect whole fish and mussel communities with the potential to cause the extinction or extirpation of many species.

There are many other factors that impact our wild plants and animals. Many reptiles are killed or collected until they become rare and imperiled. Also, many species at the top of the food chain are highly sensitive to toxins, which bio-accumulate [e.g. Bald Eagle].

Several Carolinian species are naturally low in numbers in Canada because they are at the northern edge of their natural range [e.g. Prothonotary Warbler]. It is worth protecting these plants and animals since they may be specially adapted to harsher conditions than the rest of their species, and could supply important information or resources in the future.

Most concerning are species which have been declining in numbers for years [e.g. Northern Bobwhite] for unknown reasons. They may be sensitive to loss of habitat or changes in their habitat that science has not formally identified. There may be a number of factors that are working together to reduce species to dangerously low numbers. Visit for a discussion of conservation issues in Carolinian Canada.

Thinking Big

Carolinian Canada has produced the Big Picture, a science-based mapping project showing a system of connected natural cores and green corridors to restore healthy landscapes across the zone. (Zoom in on your area at ) Beyond single ecosystems, the Big Picture inspires a vision for connected green landscapes which provide critical habitat and migration corridors to species at risk. The vision includes natural areas that are large enough to hold species that require quiet deep-woods habitat and old growth with soaring forest canopies and huge cavity trees. It envisions a system that can accommodate areas for eco-friendly recreation, as well as, low-disturbance areas for sensitive rare species. Integral to the Big Picture is the restoration of prairie and savannah, hedgerows and old fields, healthy river valleys and shorelines. The Niagara escarpment was one of the first major efforts in Canada to protect a large scale landscape feature through an integrated network of community action, zoning, awareness and stewardship. Currently, the Province of Ontario is working on a similar plan for the golden horseshoe greenbelt. The Big Picture connects these two plans and the rest of the Carolinian life zone in a vibrant lush landscape balanced for healthy communities both wild and human.



Carolinian Canada Coalition 2009

Content based on 2004 guide by Michelle Kanter, Dave Martin, Veronique LeHouk, and Jane Bowles

Many Thanks to Photographers who donated their work for this project:
Jane Bowles, Allen Woodliffe, John Ambrose, Scott Gillingwater, Ben Porchuk, Rob Willson, Mathis Nativik, Shawn Staton, David Mihilik, Joe Milner, George Brackx, Kevin Railsback, Hamilton Conservation Authority, Essex Region Conservation Authority, Margaret Pickles, Leora Berman, Donald Kirk, Upper Thames River Conservation Authority, Larry Lamb, Peggy Hurst, Michelle Kanter, Gregory Peck, Jim Flynn and Rick Battson. 

Thanks also to expert support from Dan Kraus, Mike Nelson and Paul Smith.

 Assistance for this project was provided by the Ministry of Natural Resources.



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