It was the year 2009, and Ontario Nature decided to launch the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas (ORAA) in an effort to improve the province’s knowledge of reptile and amphibian distributions. The ORAA was a continuation of the earlier efforts of the Ontario Herpetofaunal Summary and the Eastern Ontario Herpetofaunal Atlas, which included initial written records dating back to the late 1600s!
After 10 years of additional data collection under the ORAA, the atlas program has come to a close with a final database consisting of over 480,000 records through the cumulative efforts of over 12,000 researchers, naturalists and citizen scientists across the province. Ontario Nature staff and partners have been digging into this immense dataset to produce a publication outlining key trends and conservation priorities for Ontario’s herpetofauna — the first publication of its kind in the province!
The publication will provide detailed accounts of each reptile and amphibian species native to Ontario, including where they have been found in the province and how our knowledge of their distribution has changed over the years. It has been incredible to see the number of observations added to squares (representing a geographic location of a 10 x 10 kilometre grid) where we had no prior data for certain species over the years. One example is the at-risk Blanding’s Turtle, which had new observations added to over 300 squares! Further analyses are being completed to look at how certain threats (including habitat loss and roads) affect where herps have been found and to highlight areas of Ontario where certain species are likely to be found but have yet to be reported.
Even with the data collection phase of the ORAA wrapping up, the need for documenting reptiles and amphibians across Ontario continues! We hope the upcoming publication will inform and initiate a new wave of data collection and conservation initiatives across the province, all the while inspiring continued engagement in reptile and amphibian conservation. The sheer volume of data submitted to the ORAA shows just how powerful citizen science can be! We strongly encourage everyone to continue submitting observations to Ontario Nature’s Herps of Ontario iNaturalist project — it is never too late to submit your sightings and contribute to our collective knowledge on herp distributions in Ontario. There’s still much to understand and you could very well be the next person to find a species in a new area of the province. Our interactive maps and online field guide are still available to help you on your herping adventures. We thank all of the atlas contributors over the years and look forward to sharing the results of all of your hard work in the near future!
“TD Friends of the Environment Foundation (TD FEF) is proud to support citizen science initiatives such as the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas. Citizen science projects help support public understanding of and engagement with the natural world, while also leading to increased knowledge of local biodiversity” states Carolyn Scotchmer, Executive Director, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.
Brittney started as a volunteer with Ontario Nature in 2018, working on the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas. She holds a B.Sc. in zoology from the University of Guelph and an M.Sc. in conservation biology from the University of Kent. Brittney has a strong interest in the human dimensions of conservation and believes conservation success is rooted in education, science and working collaboratively with community members.