Windsor

Windsor-Essex losing its reptiles and amphibians, other rare species on the edge

One study is taking a look at amphibians and reptiles in Essex County.

Sixty-two per cent of the reptiles and amphibians found locally are now either at risk or gone

The Lake Erie Watersnake is threatened due to habitat destruction from shoreline development near Point Pelee. (Joe Crowley/Ontario Nature)

One study is taking a look at amphibians and reptiles in Essex County. It's been 35 years since the last check. 

Jonathan Choquette is one of the authors on the study, and he was looking was to update the status of reptiles and amphibians in the area.

"We have a number [of species] that are quite rare locally," said Choquette, crediting the increase of citizen science and an ongoing loss of habitat as catalysts for the study. "Both of these things gave us reason to look at and update this status."

What Choquette found is alarming. Sixty-two per cent of reptiles and amphibians historically found in Windsor and Essex County are now either at risk of disappearing locally or are already gone.

The Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas has collected more than 350,000 observations in the province from about 3,000 volunteers.- Ontario Nature 2015

Choquette assembled provincial records and compared distribution now to what was reported in previous studies, last done in the 1980s. His data showed ​11 species have declined in Essex County.

Some of those species include the Blue Racer snake, the Lake Erie watersnake and the small-mouthed salamander.

"The lack of sightings suggest these species are no longer here," said Choquette. "There are certain species, like the red-backed salamander, common at the provincial level, they're really hard to be found in Essex County. We've modified the landscape so much here that they're hard to find."

Jonathan Choquette is one of the authors on a study looking at rare and endangered species in Essex County. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

The Essex Region Conservation Authority didn't contribute to this specific study, but one ERCA biologist said the data can't be refuted.

"If you look back at pre-settlement times we obviously had more species than we do today," said Dan Lebydk. When housing developments in LaSalle expanded between 1986 and 1996, more than 97 per cent of the existing wetlands in the area were lost.

Globally rare species and local extinction

Data shows Essex County has the highest concentration of "globally rare species" in all of Canada. 

"There are many endangered and threatened species in the Essex Region," said Lebydk, adding that there are multiple reasons for this, including that the main population of some of the species here mostly exist in the United States.

Even though populations may be stable in the U.S., Choquette said we should keep an eye on local extinction.

"Extinction happens one local habitat at a time. Species can decline under our nose until it's endangered provincially and we didn't see it coming," said Choquette. "We have the last populations for some species in Canada."

The Blue Racer snake is considered to be rare in Essex County. (Michael Oldham/Ontario.ca)

On the other hand, some species at risk worldwide are found in abundance in Essex County, including two species of snakes and three turtle species.

Habitats are important

Even though efforts are made throughout Essex County to protect habitats of endangered or rare species, Choquette said there's no guarantee they'll have any headway. 

The Blanchard's Cricket Frog is considered to be gone from Essex County. (Michael Oldham/Ontario.ca)

"There are sometimes where we have to come in, in a protective region, and do some recovery work," said Choquette.

Lebydk agreed, adding that it's the responsibility of the landowner to make sure habitats are safe.

"We have to conserve as many native species as possible."

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