Niagara Escarpment Biodiversity


The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity defines biodiversity as the variability among living organisms from all sources including, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, including diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.

The 725-kilometre long cuesta known as the Niagara Escarpment in Ontario rises in Queenston, heads up through Carolinian forest, and ducks under the waves of Georgian Bay in Tobermory, leaving glimpses in the form of islands in Fathom Five National Marine Park. Covered by glacial melt waters only recently given it’s 420 million geological history, the ridge meanders as fish habitat emerging again on Manitoulin Island and beyond across the Great Arc into Michigan and Wisconsin. Given it’s continuous, sinuous length through a range of latitudes, it epitomizes biodiversity serving as core habitat and as a continuous wildlife corridor.

In establishing the Niagara Escarpment as a Biosphere Reserve in 1990, UNESCO reminds us that the Escarpment is the largest contiguous stretch of primarily forested land in south-central Ontario with habitats ranging over more than 430 metres in elevation, including Great Lakes coastlines, cliff edges, talus slopes, wetlands, woodlands, limestone alvar pavements, oak savannahs, conifer swamps, and many others. These habitats collectively boast the highest level of species diversity among Canadian biosphere reserves, including more than 300 bird species, 55 mammals, 36 reptiles and amphibians, 90 fish, and 100 varieties of special interest flora.

Despite current threats to Ontario’s Greenbelt (which includes the escarpment) and the common understanding that the world is in the midst of the sixth mass species extinction, this is a hopeful time for biodiversity conservation with Canada playing a key role. In December 2022, the world came to Montreal to participate in the U.N. Convention of the Parties (COP15). The end result was signing of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, committing countries to protect 30 per cent of land and oceans by 2030, recognizing Indigenous leadership as a central pillar of achieving these goals, and reaffirming Indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consent to development projects taking place on their territories. In February 2023, the 5th International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC5) in Vancouver resulted in more conservation commitments.

The Niagara Escarpment is key to biodiversity conservation in Ontario. An earlier Conservative government led by Premier Bill Davis did their part. What will we do to continue it’s protection, and encourage the current Conservative government to go back to the future?

—  By Brian McHattie is a board member of the Sources of Knowledge


Sources of Knowledge Forum

Groups across the Escarpment landscape continue to celebrate biodiversity. On April 28 to 30, 2023, the Sources of Knowledge in Tobermory, Ontario will hold it’s 13th annual forum with a focus on the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula. Learn more at

As Parks Canada states, all of nature is connected. But sometimes things get disconnected.

Wildlife living in national parks cross their boundaries all the time in order to access what they need to survive. But roads and railways make it hard for wildlife to travel from one area to another. Dams can interrupt the flow of streams and rivers. Logging, mining, and urban development can impede the movements of many animals, whether they’re traveling vast distances (birds, grizzly bears, wolves) or just down to the local pond (turtles and frogs).

Nature needs its connections big and small, just as humans need theirs. Such connections are the arteries of the living world, helping life circulate and oxygenating entire ecosystems. Here are some ways Parks Canada and its partners are improving ecological connectivity:

•  Maintaining the “unimpeded movement of species and the flow of natural processes that sustain life on earth” (from the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species)

•  Protecting habitat corridors that knit together fragmented landscapes

•  Lessening the impacts of fragmented habitats that make it hard for species to move and interact over large spaces

•  Creating the links required to conserve biodiversity, foster ecological integrity, and support the recovery of species at risk