Cover of NWT Species 2016-2020 Report Cover of NWT Species 2016-2020 Report

Keeping Track of Biodiversity: NWT Species 2016-2020.

A recent publication is helping to build knowledge of the rich biodiversity of the NWT.   The NWT General Status Ranking Program collects information on NWT species and how each one is doing in general, and publishes a report every five years in collaboration with other agencies and wildlife management boards, including the WRRB.  This new edition of the General Status Ranks of Wild Species in the Northwest Territories is the fourth report published and issued by the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) since the Program started in 1999. 

The previous reports were published in 2000, 2006, and 2011—and with each publication, knowledge has been growing, and more species have been added.  Traditional knowledge and science are used as sources for updating information, with new knowledge added as it becomes available.  This 2016-2020 report includes more groups of insects; all species of beetles known to be in the NWT (1,130 of them!) are included for the first time, as well as the rank of all 1,008 bee species in the NWT.  Additional marine species were also included.  Those additions and others have created a rich resource for information on the diverse plants and animals that are found in the territory –and a guide for wildlife managers and others who are making decisions about wildlife, in particular species at risk. 

The current report provides ranks for 5,257 species—an impressive number.  Equally impressive is the fact that that number represents only about 17% of all species that are expected to be present in the NWT –some 30,000 wildlife species.  From the smallest microorganisms to plants and animals, there is a vast variety of living beings in the territory to continue to learn about, monitor and document.   

Why is it important to do this?

Biodiversity in itself is important and needs to be protected.  The variety of living things in an area, their abundance, the diversity of ecosystems such as boreal forest and tundra –all are included in a list of things that make up biodiversity. 

Each organism within an ecosystem serves important functions that help balance the Earth’s ecology.  Living things depend on one another and their habitat for survival.  For example, many animals depend on plants for food and shelter, and plants depend on the soil for growth and on insects for pollination.  Loss of biodiversity weakens the connections that exist among various species, which harms the ecosystem.

“The loss of a single species may have negative consequences that ripple through an ecosystem,” the report notes. 

Most species are doing well here in the NWT, but some species are facing threats due to human activities and natural causes. 

The first step in protecting valuable biodiversity is to increase our knowledge of each species and to monitor its status regularly, ideally preventing it from ever becoming at risk.  In this way, too, there’s a better chance that any changes in a species’ status can be detected before they become critical.  Monitoring can also help identify which species need special attention or require a more detailed assessment.

What can we find in the pages of the 2016-2020 report?

The report includes background information, a description of what the program is trying to achieve, which species are ranked in this report, how species were ranked, and what was learned.  Its goal is a critical one:  To maintain biodiversity by ensuring that no species becomes extinct as a consequence of human activity.  Among its objectives is increasing awareness of species needing special attention and of possibilities for active involvement in monitoring activities in the NWT.

Throughout the report there are colourful photographs of wildlife species, most of them taken by Northern photographers and several photos are full-size and close-up.   The report also contains lists of ranked species according to “group”:  terrestrial mammals, marine mammals, birds, fishes, amphibians and reptile (there is only one type of reptile that has been observed in the NWT), corals, sponges, echinoderms, freshwater and terrestrial mollusks, 16 groups of insects, vascular plants, liverworts, mosses, macro-lichens and mushrooms. 

For each group, there is an informative introduction written by an expert, someone who is especially knowledgeable and enthusiastic on that topic.   Species are then listed in a chart that includes their common names and scientific species names, general status ranks (Secure, Sensitive, At Risk, May be at Risk, or Undetermined), detailed assessments in Canada (COSEWIC status) and the NWT (SARC status), and species ranking at the global level.  At the national level, species are assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).  At the territorial level in the NWT, species are assessed by the Species of Risk Committee (NWT). 

For example, Wolverine, Gulo gulo, is ranked as Sensitive, its Species at Risk status in the NWT is Not at Risk-2014, and its status in Canada is Special Concern-2014.  If a species is ranked as Sensitive, it means it’s not at high risk of extinction (no longer present in the world) or extirpation (no longer present in the NWT) but may require some special attention or protection to prevent it from becoming at risk.  The wolverine was ranked as not at risk in the NWT in 2014 but still was ranked as Sensitive mostly due to its characteristics such as its low reproductive rates and its sensitivity to human disturbance.  Although the wolverine is currently doing well in the NWT, it is not faring as well in more southern parts of its range where its habitat is threatened by climate change, human activity and other disturbances.  As a result, its COSWEIC status in Canada is Special Concern. 

A Secure species is neither at risk nor sensitive.  Moose and Black Bears, for example, are ranked as Secure.  Species that are ranked as May be at Risk are forwarded as priority lists to SARC and COSEWIC for their consideration for future detailed assessments.

Following the lists of species with general status ranks, which make up most of the publication, there is a list of print and online sources where the reader can go to learn more about the various wildlife groups.  There is also a section on how to get involved and where to report wildlife observations such as and Readers can join the NWT Species Group on FaceBook where nature enthusiasts are sharing information and photographs on social media. 

Where from here?

Information will continue to be collected and updated, building on the collective knowledge of science experts and those with traditional and local knowledge of the land. 

 “Future opportunities for both visiting experts and northerners exist; both can learn by working together and by sharing experiences on the land to gain insights on all NWT species.”  (NWT Species 2010-2020, GNWT)

Fact Box – Species by the Numbers

  • 68 species of mammals are known to occur regularly in the NWT.
  • 241 species of birds can be observed regularly in the NWT.  87% of the bird species breeding in the NWT are migratory.  The remaining 13% are year-round residents.
  • 100 species of fish can be found regularly in the NWT’s rivers and lakes and in the NWT’s section of the Western Arctic Ocean.  Of the 100 species, 76 are marine and live exclusively in the ocean.  The other fish species live either entirely in freshwater or for at least part of their lives. 
  • 5 species of amphibians and 1 species of reptile are confirmed to occur in the NWT.
  • The largest group of species included in the 2016-2020 report is insects.  As with elsewhere in the world, they make up the biggest component of our biodiversity. 
    • For a sampling of the incredible diversity of insects, there are 1,130 species of beetles confirmed present in the NWT, 1008 bee species, 34 species of mosquitoes, 61 species of black flies, 25 species of horseflies and deer flies, 92 species of butterflies, 321 species of spiders, and 43 species of dragonflies and damselflies!

Fact Box – The NWT General Status Ranking Program

  • The NWT General Status Ranking Program collects information on NWT species. 
  • This system is shared by all other jurisdictions in Canada, and is similar to systems used by other countries. This tool is assisting in setting conservation priorities territorially, nationally, and internationally — especially across the circumpolar regions of the world. 
  • For more information, visit