Habitat loss and the limits to endangered species recovery


* E-mail: jkerr@uottawa.ca


Canada is one of the last places on earth with extensive wilderness areas, yet the number of Canadian species threatened with extinction continues to rise every year. Using satellite-derived land use data, we find that habitat loss explains most of the variation in numbers of endangered species across Canada. Habitat loss within species ranges is, therefore, likely to be the leading factor inhibiting their recovery. We measured habitat loss individually within the known ranges of 243 terrestrial species at risk of extinction across Canada. Recovery potential, as measured by extent of natural habitat within each species’ range, is bimodally distributed, but less than 50% of the range of the majority of Canada's species at risk is natural habitat and there is no detectable habitat remaining for 16 of the 243 species at risk. There were no differences in the recovery potential of species categorized either by threat level (special concern, threatened, or endangered) or taxon. Despite having extensive wilderness areas, Canada has similar rates of endangerment to other countries in the Americas, underlining the effect of severe habitat loss to intensive agriculture that has occurred in Canada's most biologically diverse regions. Improvements to protected areas networks and especially cooperative conservation activities with private landowners will do the most to improve the recovery prospects of species at risk in Canada.