Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

March 31, 2000

Canada's coastal wildlife get own 'postal code' system

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a University of Guelph researcher and an Australian biologist have developed a "postal code" system for classifying "neighbourhoods" of aquatic plants and animals living along Canada's extensive ocean coastline and throughout the Great Lakes.

The new framework, to be released this spring, fills a much-needed gap, according to Guelph zoology Prof. John Roff, one of the co-authors.

"Canada has the longest shoreline of any country but what we know in terms of what's out there, apart from fisheries, is very little."

WWF Canada initiated data collection for the three-volume Planning for Representative Marine Protected Areas as a companion document for the "postal code book" that the organization developed several years earlier to classify what lives where on land. They found that no such ecologically based classification system existed for Canada's waters.

"We are committed to establishing representative terrestrial and marine areas," says Josh Laughren, the Toronto-based organization's senior manager for marine protected areas. "To do that, we need to map out what those representative areas are."

Needing a reliable system for classifying marine environments and their associated plants and animals, WWF Canada turned to Roff, who has studied the effects of large water masses such as Arctic currents or the Gulf Stream on ocean communities, and Australian biologist Jon Day, a regional environment manager responsible for part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

Armed with geophysical data from around Canada's three marine coastlines and throughout the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, Roff and Day produced a detailed picture of the underwater landscape including such features as temperature, salinity, substrate type and slope.

Understanding the habitat gives a fairly good idea of what kinds of plants and animals will live there. "It's not a perfect correlation but there's sufficiently strong correspondence that you can say what the relationships are," says Roff of his "postal code" system.

Laughren says it's important not to overlook "representative" areas of the country's lakes and oceans in the rush to save unique species and environments. The former ecosystems may lack the glamour of whales or the mystery of deep-sea vents, but Roff says they are absolutely vital in maintaining the biodiversity of our oceans.

"If you only conserve unique things, you've probably missed 95 per cent of the rest of nature," he says. "They're beautiful little spots, they may contain rare or endangered species, but they're not representative of nature as a whole."

WWF will use the report for research and advocacy activities for marine protected areas.

Contact: Prof. John Roff, Department of Zoology (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3834

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3338.

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