Wild in Toronto

Antonia Guidotti, entomology technician in the Department of Natural History at the ROM

Experts team up to produce a free booklet series that encourages city residents to appreciate their local biodiversity

Photographing an eastern comma. The Biodiversity Series encourages people to observe the natural habitat of butterflies and to photograph rather than collect them.

Photo: Colin Walton photographing butterfly, Antonia Guidotti

To honour the Year of Biodiversity, which took place in 2010, the City of Toronto began planning a series of booklets on wildlife in the city, each focusing on a major group of flora or fauna. With the ultimate hope of re-connecting people with the natural world, the series aims to raise awareness of the city’s existing biodiversity and the factors that affect it—massive urbanization, pesticide use, invasive species, habitat loss, and climate change.

The idea for the Biodiversity Series was sparked when Kelly Snow of Toronto City Planning, now coordinator of the series, posed the question “How can we in Toronto reduce local loss of biodiversity?” He concluded that educating the public about the flora and fauna found in their own backyards would motivate people to conserve and value that “backyard”—whether their actual yard or a nearby public park or natural area. Cultivating a sense of stewardship would inspire citizens to protect their environment. The booklets, geared to any resident or student, inform readers about the living things that share our world. They encourage readers to appreciate the city’s variety of species and they give individuals the tools to help make a difference.

Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson kindly provided a worl of welcome to the booklet series. Both authors are great advocates for biodiversity.

A key component of the project is distributing the booklets for free through the Toronto Public Library system, where they are widely accessible. (The Toronto District School Board has also ordered a number to distribute to schools.) Five thousand copies of the first booklet in the series, Birds of Toronto, were published and distributed in late 2009, and a reprint is in the works. Prefaced with a word of welcome by Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson, Butterflies of Toronto was in libraries by October 2011. Five more booklets are in production—Spiders of Toronto, Mammals of Toronto, Fishes of Toronto, Reptiles and Amphibians of Toronto, and Trees and Shrubs of Toronto. It is hoped that additional booklets will be developed.

Written for a wide audience, the Biodiversity Series is scientifically based. While not field guides, the booklets contain content that is rich in general and local scientific information. But with no funding provided by the city except through Livegreen Toronto, city staff needed to be creative about how to get the series produced. They came up with a novel model of volunteer collaboration. Snow invited experts from the community—professional scientists, amateurs, and non-scientific personnel including city staff and artists such as Robert Bateman, Barry Kent MacKay, and Susan Boswell—to participate in working groups, one devoted to each taxon. At least one ROM staff member also sits on each group. The booklets are truly collaborative undertakings with all members contributing based on their area of expertise. The process worked so well that city staff also hopes to consult working-group participants on how city policies could be enhanced or developed to mitigate biodiversity loss.

A few private donors have generously contributed towards the printing costs of the series, and we hope there will be more donations, allowing the entire series to be printed and the Birds booklet, which was rapidly distributed and is now unavailable, to be reprinted.

Check your local library for upcoming instalments of the series.

The ROM is currently working on its Field Guide to the Butterflies of Ontario to be published in 2013.

What’s Inside the Booklets?

The newest booklet in the Toronto Biodiversity Series focuses on butterflies, providing up-to-date information about species in the Toronto area. In this booklet you will find the following details and more:

  • A species list of all 110 species recorded within a 50 km radius of the ROM (this is the “city” of Toronto). Both scientific names and common names are given.
  • An image of every species as well as an abundance of information. (Photographs were mostly provided by participants.)
  • A few species featured in greater detail and a profile of an “unofficial” species of Toronto.
  • A discussion of extirpated butterflies.
  • Best viewing locations.
  • Threats to butterflies, which include natural predators and parasites as well as threats posed by humans.
  • Actions the average person can undertake to help butterflies and conserve biodiversity.
  • Relevant city, provincial, and federal policies that affect butterflies.
  • A list of plants and the specific caterpillars that feed on them and the plants that butterflies use as nectar sources.
  • Where to get more information!

The Working Groups

Individuals from the following organizations participated in Working Groups for the Biodiversity Series: Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto Zoo, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, Toronto Entomologists’ Association, Toronto Ornithological Club, Toronto Field Naturalists, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, University of Toronto, University of Guelph, Canadian Peregrine Foundation, Conservation Foundation of Greater Toronto, Cormorant Defenders International, Environment Canada, Fatal Light Awareness Program, Ontario Science Centre, Toronto Botanical Garden, Urban Forestry Associates, Not Far From The Tree, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, Invasive Plant Council, Ontario Nature, and more.