What is an ecosystem?

An ecosystem refers to a community of living organisms (like plants, animal2017 Nature Photos from Genevieve S (22)s, and insects) and their interactions between each other and the physical environment around them.

Ecosystems are diverse, and unique. Their combinations of plants, animals and their physical environment defines the beauty and richness of the natural world. Maintaining this natural diversity is key to preventing species extinctions and is a critical aspect of maintaining natural resilience into the future. 

Ecosystems in the Cowichan Valley

The Cowichan region contains a range of rare and sensitive ecosystems that have very high ecological and social values. The majority of the region’s population is within the Coastal Douglas-fir Biogeoclimatic Zone of Vancouver Island. The climate of this zone is often characterized by warm, sunny summers and mild, wet winters. Unlike more exposed coastal areas such as the west coast of Vancouver Island, our zone experiences long dry summers, which are a major factor in its ecology. The Coastal Douglas-fir Zone is home to a unique and sensitive group of ecosystems, and includes seaside parkland, dry forest, rock outcrop, and wetland habitats and contains many rare plants. The area is home to many estuaries, where rivers and streams flow into the sea, which provide habitat for a variety of life. Ecosystems in our region can be categorized into three main groups: terrestrial, marine, and freshwater. 

  1. Terrestrial Ecosystems
  2. Marine Ecosystems
  3. Freshwater Ecosystems

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 A terrestrial ecosystem is a land-based community of organisms and the interaction of biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) components in a given area.  Terrestrial ecosystems are areas of similar soil, topography and climate – but can be defined at many different scales.  The Cowichan Valley is home to a number of unique terrestrial ecosystems, including Garry oak woodlands, old growth forests, riparian areas, and more. 

Climate change has an impact on our terrestrial ecosystems. Warmer temperatures may affect the timing of biological cycles, enhance the potential for invasive species, pests, and others that compromise native species in the region. 

Learn more about our region's environmentally sensitive areas by visiting our Environmentally Sensitive Areas page

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