Natural Heritage Information Centre
Learn about Ontario’s conservation data centre and how it tracks the province’s biodiversity.
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About the centre
Natural Heritage Information Centre staff members conduct research and surveys in the field for priority species and areas across Ontario. The centre collects, reviews, manages and distributes information for:
- species of conservation concern
- rare and exemplary plant communities
- wildlife concentration areas
- natural areas
We work with other government and non-government organizations to advance our understanding of biodiversity, natural heritage and species conservation in Ontario.
A large network of conservation partners all across Ontario sends us information for safe keeping and to add to the provincial record. We also rely on dedicated individuals like you to report your observations.
Natural heritage information
The centre manages data about the location of species of conservation concern, plant communities, wildlife concentration areas, and natural areas in Ontario. Observations related to these elements can be reported.
When an observation record is sent to the Natural Heritage Information Centre, it is reviewed and entered into the provincial record. Many agencies and researchers use the provincial record to plan, protect and study Ontario’s natural heritage.
Conservation status rank
The centre assigns conservation status ranks to species, plant communities and wildlife concentration areas in Ontario. These ranks are then used by the province, national organizations and international organizations to help assign legal statuses and other conservation designations. These designations are made at the provincial, national and global scale.
Conservation status ranks help guide conservation and research efforts by identifying species and areas of concern and those for which we require more information.
To gain a more meaningful understanding of observation data we apply standard international methodology and scientific expertise.
Natural heritage methodology
The Natural Heritage Information Centre adheres to the Natural Heritage Methodology. This helps the centre define occurrences of tracked species, plant communities, wildlife concentration areas and natural areas in Ontario. These standard methods were developed by the international NatureServe network of conservation data centres. The NHIC is a member of NatureServe.
The standards help NHIC provide authoritative scientific information about Ontario’s natural heritage to scientists, policy makers, planners and the public.NatureServe's Natural Heritage Methodology describes:
- what species, wildlife concentration areas, or plant communities exist in a particular area
- how these species, wildlife concentration areas, or plant communities are doing
Key components include:
- methods to complete field inventories
- methods to estimate the likelihood a species, wildlife concentration area or plant community will go extinct or be eliminated (conservation status ranks)
- methods to review and record observation records
- methods to create element occurrences, which are areas of land or water on or in which a species or plant community is or was present. They are important to the conservation of a species or plant community.
Conservation status ranks
Conservation status ranks estimate a species’ risk of going extinct or being extirpated. They can also rank a plant community’s risk of elimination. They help identify priorities for inventory, protection and management.
The NHIC and the NatureServe network have developed standard methods to evaluate species and plant communities and assign conservation status ranks.
- Global Rank (GRank) is the conservation status of a species or plant community across its entire range.
- National Rank (NRank) is the conservation status of a species or plant community within a particular country.
- Subnational Rank (SRank) is the conservation status of a species or plant community within a particular province, territory or state.
NHIC assigns subnational ranks (SRanks) for species and plant communities in Ontario using the best available information and considering factors such as abundance, distribution, population trends and threats.
Conservation status ranks do not have any legal standing in Ontario. They are independent of status designated under Canada’s Species at Risk Act and Ontario’s Endangered Species Act.
How the NHIC maps observations
The NHIC maps observations as polygons based on:
- coordinates (latitude/longitude or easting/northing) of the location of the observation
- description of how the observer derived the coordinates
- description or maps of the location provided by the observer
How the NHIC generates element occurrences
An element occurrence is an area of land and/or water where a species or plant community is or was present. They represent areas important to the conservation of a species or plant community such as the courtship, nesting, rearing and feeding areas of a bird. The NHIC generates each element occurrence from one or more observations.
The NHIC follows international standard element occurrence specifications, developed by the NatureServe network, to combine observations to form element occurrences.
The specifications define what does and does not constitute an element occurrence. For example, for a bald eagle, the NHIC considers a record for a nesting site an element occurrence or part of an element occurrence. But it does not consider a record of a migrating bald eagle an element occurrence or part of an element occurrence.
Element occurrence specifications also show which features, like busy roads and dams, prevent a species from moving or dispersing. This information defines the boundaries of an element occurrence. The specifications also define how far apart observations that are part of the same element occurrence can be.
Some specifications are species specific and others apply to a group of species (e.g., ducks and geese, sticklebacks, or freshwater mussels).
Much of the information the centre manages is classified by the Ontario government as medium sensitive data. Information protection and system security protocols are in place to ensure the right information gets to the right people for the right reasons.
The Natural Heritage Information Centre distributes data about Ontario’s species, plant communities, wildlife concentration areas and natural areas. The information helps natural resources management and conservation decisions in Ontario.
Serving the conservation community
We collect information and work with partners across Ontario to fill knowledge and information gaps. The centre also supports bi-national studies and biodiversity conservation strategies for the Great Lakes.
Scientific expertise, advice and review
The Natural Heritage Information Centre has a wide range of scientific and information management expertise. Our staff study plants, animals, plant communities and natural areas across Ontario. The NHIC also seeks advice and input from their network of conservation scientists and practitioners.
The centre supports collaborations on a wide variety of conservation science projects, inviting agencies and government programs to bring ideas, opportunities and resources together.
If your program or agency is interested in conservation science collaboration, please contact us: