Species Richness in British Columbia

British Columbia has more species (higher species richness) than any other jurisdiction in Canada.

  • Many species present in British Columbia do not occur elsewhere in Canada.  For example, the number of amphibian and conifer tree species recorded in Canada would be 30% and 40% lower without those found in British Columbia (Table 1).
  • Many species found elsewhere in Canada also are found in British Columbia including 70% of terrestrial mammal species, 76% of breeding birds, 60% of conifer trees and 66% of butterflies (Table 1).
  • No other province or territory is home to as many species that breed only within its borders and nowhere else in Canada(Figure 1).
  • British Columbia is home to most of the global populations of some species such as about 60% of mountain goats Oreamnos americanus, 90% or more of the wintering population of Barrow’s Goldeneye Bucephala islandica and 80% of the breeding population of Cassin’s Auklet Ptychoramphus aleuticus and Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus.

Table 1. Native species richness for selected taxa breeding in British Columbia and Canada.

species richness table

The exact number of species in British Columbia is unknown for two reasons: most species are unknown to science and there are no clearly defined rules on how to define a species (i.e. the ‘species problem’).  Only a fraction of the species that exist in the world have been described – 1.5 to 1.6 million out of a total of 5 to 30 million (5 – 30%).1  Most species that are unknown to science are relatively small, such as invertebrates and microfungi, and many require specific habitat characteristics.

Animal comparison BC, Ontario and Other

Figure 1.  Number of native species breeding in one jurisdiction in Canada for selected taxa (data source: Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council. 2001. Wild Species 2000: the General Status of Species in Canada. Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada).

1Wilson, E.O. 1992. The diversity of life. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts.