Seeing the Forest beyond the Trees: Forest Biodiversity
Much like a puzzle, each piece of forest biodiversity does its part to function as a whole. Photo: © Corel Corporation, 1994. - Click to enlarge
As home to approximately two thirds of the plant, animal and micro-organism species living in Canada, forests are certainly more than just trees.
Forest biodiversity refers to the variety of life -- including plants, animals and micro-organisms -- that lives in forest areas, and the ecological roles these life forms play. Forest biodiversity is very important to the health and well-being of Canadians and our environment: forests stabilize our climate, purify our air and water, prevent floods and provide us with lumber, paper, Christmas trees, mushrooms, maple sap, berries, fiddleheads and medicinal plants.
However, several major factors, such as climate change, invasive alien species, and land use conversion are threatening forest biodiversity.
Threats to Forest Biodiversity
Countless species depend on forests for survival. Photo: © Corel Corporation, 1994. - Click to enlarge
According Natural Resources Canada, forests are likely to be greatly affected by climate change. Climate change is expected to alter the distribution and competitive balance of forest biodiversity, lengthen growing seasons, increase the frequency and intensity of forest fires, and make forests more vulnerable to insect infestations and disease.
Invasive alien species can also be extremely destructive to Canada’s forests. An invasive alien species is one that is introduced from another country or region often as a result of international travel, shipping and climate change. For example, a massive mountain pine beetle outbreak is devastating the pine forests of the British Columbia interior. Beetle populations, once held in check by cold winter temperatures, are now spreading rapidly to northern regions and higher elevations. Scientists estimate that the outbreak will result in the release of 990 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2020, equivalent to about five years of emissions from Canada's transportation sector. Carbon dioxide is amongst the most prevalent of greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.
Many songbirds that migrate annually between North and South America use Canada's boreal forest as their “nursery.” Continuing high deforestation rates and loss of winter habitat in Central and South America are causing populations of many of Canada's forest birds to decline. Canada's deforestation rate is low -- estimated at 0.02 percent in 2005 -- and opportunities remain for major conservation initiatives in the boreal forest.
Taking Action for Forest Biodiversity
Layers of life -- mushrooms growing on trees demonstrate the diversity of life in forests. Photo: © Corel Corporation, 1994. - Click to enlarge
Internationally, Canada participates in the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. The Convention promotes the conservation and sustainable use of the world’s forests, as well as the sharing of benefits derived from the use of forest resources, such medicinal plants. The Convention calls on countries to build strong conditions to manage forests and to assess and monitor progress.
At the domestic level, a draft version of an updated forest strategy, “ A Vision for Canada's Forests - 2008 and Beyond,” was released by the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM) in April 2008. The final version is scheduled for release in fall 2008. The vision for this forest strategy is for Canada to become the best in the world in sustainable forest management and a global leader in forest sector innovation.
To address the social, ecological and economic impacts of forest biodiversity issues, the framework helps to assess the status of, and trends in, Canada's forests. It can also help track Canada’s progress towards achieving the 2010 Biodiversity Target of significantly reducing the current rate of biodiversity loss at home, and worldwide.
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- About 45 percent of Canada is covered with forests, representing 402 million hectares.
- Canada is home to approximately one tenth of the world’s forests.
- Canada is the world’s largest exporter of forest products, accounting for 15.9 percent of the world trade.