By John Hassell
Nearly 200 species of plants and animals in Ontario are classified as at risk meaning that they are in danger of becoming extinct – either locally or globally. In recognition of the International Year of Biodiversity, Ontario Nature has identified 10 species that highlight the loss of biodiversity and raise awareness about species at risk in Ontario.
Two of the 10 on the Watch List are Fowler’s toad and American badger.
The diminutive Fowler’s toad – a mere five to seven centimetres in length – has grey upper parts with darker blotches and blends easily into its surroundings. Biologists estimate that only 1,200 of these toads are left in Ontario, and its numbers continue to decline. Designated as threatened federally and provincially, the nocturnal amphibian lives an average of two to three years. The Fowler’s toad, which is no longer seen along the western coastline of Lake Erie in the United States where it once thrived, now inhabits only the northern shore of Lake Erie.
As with many species in Carolinian Canada, habitat loss and vehicles are the dominant threats to the continued existence of the Fowler’s toad. Moreover, agricultural runoff pollutes many of the places where the amphibian remains.
The American badger is a heavy-bodied member of the weasel family with a long torso and short legs. Grey with black and white stripes on its head and face, the badger has extremely long claws it uses to dig for small burrowing animals which it preys upon. The American badger’s range is limited to areas surrounding the Great Lakes in southwestern Ontario and to remnant grassland near the Manitoba border in northwestern Ontario.
The badger is listed as endangered both federally and provincially, and fewer than 200 individuals remain in Ontario. As is the case with many provincially endangered species, habitat loss and fragmentation due to human activity, road kill, pollution from pesticides and loss of native vegetation have pushed the badger to the brink of local extinction.
Says Anne Bell, Ontario Nature’s senior director of conservation and education, “Despite efforts to curb the loss of biodiversity, it is increasing at an accelerating rate around the world. We continue to lose species, and the natural communities and systems of which we are all a part. That Ontario’s list of at-risk species continues to grow demonstrates how urgent the need for action is.”
To see the entire Watch List, visit Ontario Nature’s website at www.ontarionature.org/biodiversity.