Fully shed adult billy with a wisp of hair at the tail, southern Yukon overlooking the Windy Arm of Tagish Lake., Canadian Geographic / WCS Canada
Fully shed adult billy with a wisp of hair at the tail, southern Yukon overlooking the Windy Arm of Tagish Lake. © Canadian Geographic / WCS Canada

Mountains

Mountains are home to many endangered species and ecosystems but are rapidly being altered by development and climate change.

Why mountains matter

Diversity

  • Mountain ecosystems are highly diverse, but this diversity is often compressed into relatively small areas. These ecosystems rapidly transition in response to changes in altitude, slope and exposure.
  • Valley-bottom habitats in the northern boreal are highly productive and diverse - but disproportionately impacted by human activities.

Resilience

  • Mountains in the rapidly-warming boreal can provide a cooler habitat for species adapting to climate change

Importance to people

  • These landscapes have been managed by Indigenous peoples for millennia to enhance food production, limit catastrophic wildfires and enhance biodiversity.
Thousands

of species in Canada inhabit mountain ecosystems, from alpine plants to iconic mammals like Mountain caribou.

~ 1/3

of species at risk in Canada are found in mountain regions

100

species in Canada's mountain regions are found nowhere else in the world

Our solutions

Modelling climate futures

Mountain environments in northwestern Canada are changing rapidly as the climate warms. WCS Canada’s Northern Boreal Mountains Program climate change adaptation project in Yukon collaborates with government partners to project how the ranges of certain vulnerable species could shift in response to climate change.

These projections using different climate scenarios can help government planners and conservation staff better understand future conditions for endemic plants (plants found only in Yukon), invertebrates and caribou. So far, we have produced current and future distribution models for 66 endemic plant species across the Yukon and Alaska and published the results in Diversity and Distribution.

Key Biodiversity Areas

Canada’s mountains are a hotspot for biodiversity including threatened species and ecosystems, and a number of plants and animals that are only found in Canada. They are also important migratory corridors. We are working with local communities to identify Key Biodiversity Areas to highlight the most important places in mountain regions for conservation action.

Birds, burns, mining and migration

Birds are a good indicator of the state of ecosystems. We are studying how birds are faring in both areas that have been extensively disturbed by mining and in forest areas that have been burned. These studies will help us understand whether birds are returning to post-industrial sites and how they are coping with increasingly severe wildfires, while also highlighting the risk of harvesting dead wood. Our Yukon team also played a key role in unravelling the mystery of blackpoll warbler migration.

Projects

Yukon Climate Change

Yukon Climate Change

Why we need to plan for a changing climate and landscape

Resources


Stories and op-eds

Social for science: Using smartphone photos for research
2020-11-06

Social for science: Using smartphone photos for research

With millions of photos taken globally each day on smartphones, researchers have found they may also contain important ecological clues about our rapidly changing planet
Donald Reid
Muskwa-Kechika: An opportunity for bold conservation action
2019-09-24

Muskwa-Kechika: An opportunity for bold conservation action

By protecting the Muskwa-Kechika, a vast, wild region of mountains, glaciers, and boreal forest in north-central B.C., we can create a climate refuge for vulnerable species
Mapping out a new approach to biodiversity protection
2019-06-04

Mapping out a new approach to biodiversity protection

Decisions around where to establish new protected areas in Canada should consider wildlife and ecosystem health first
Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne