Newfoundland and Labrador Biosphere
The biosphere, all of life on earth, can be subdivided into
distinct geographical regions called biomes. A
biome is a region with a distinct climate and
characteristic plants and animals. Newfoundland and
Labrador is actually part of two different biomes - tundra
The tundra is a
sub-arctic zone characterized by long, cold winters and
short, warm summers. Precipitation is low and in the form
of rain and snow. It is sometimes referred to as a cold
desert. The soil a meter down is permanently frozen and
permafrost. Since water cannot easily
drain through the soil because of this underlying
permafrost, water tends to collect in shallow pools. The
landscape, devoid of erect trees and tall shrubs, is
dominated by low shrubs, mosses, lichens and small
herbaceous plants. The characteristic
animals of the tundra biome include barren ground
caribou, musk ox, arctic wolf, arctic fox, arctic hare,
lemmings, and a variety of voles. The polar bear is the
dominant carnivore. Many birds migrate to this area in
spring to lay their eggs and rear their young before
flying south to warmer areas for the winter.
|Tundra biome of the coastal barrens, northern Labrador.
The antlers lying on the ground indicate the presence of caribou and other wildlife in this region.
Reproduced by permission of Brian C. Bursey. From Brian C. Bursey, Exploring
Labrador (St. John's, Newfoundland: Harry Cuff Publications, ©1991) 87.
The taiga generally lies
to the south of the tundra and is typified by very low
winter temperatures, a longer growing season than the
tundra, and more precipitation in the form of rain and
snow. The soils are generally acidic and lack in
important nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. This
biome is dominated by
coniferous trees, especially
balsam fir and black spruce, with white birch, trembling
aspen and mountain ash being the commonest
trees. The characteristic animals of this biome include
moose (the biome is sometimes called the spruce-moose
biome), black bear, Canada lynx, red fox, pine marten,
short-tailed weasel, and mink. Beaver, muskrat, and river
otter abound in the numerous rivers, lakes and ponds.
There are also large expanses of wetlands, especially
fens in this biome.
Northern Labrador is a
typical part of the tundra. Southern Labrador is an
example of the taiga. The island of Newfoundland is not
typical of either as it does not possess many of the
animals and plants found in other areas of North America.
This is due to the glaciers which covered the island
during the last ice age until about 10,000 years ago.
Since the island emerged from the ice age basically
devoid of plant and animal life it had to be recolonized
from the adjacent mainland. The predominantly westerly
winds blew lichen and moss spores onto the island, and
maybe even light seeds. But not all plants made the
journey and so the island has fewer plants than adjacent
mainland areas. Flying insects and birds came across, as
could swimming animals (beaver, muskrat, otter) and some
other animals crossed the sea ice that forms between the
island and the mainland during winter. Only freshwater
fish capable of surviving in seawater managed to swim to
the island. No hibernating animals crossed (i.e.
chipmunks, frogs, snakes etc.) The native mammals are few
in number; while Labrador has some 42 native mammals, the
island of Newfoundland is home to only fourteen! There
are no snakes, raccoons, skunks or porcupines.
The island has a very
high proportion of alien herbaceous plants and insects.
This is due to the long history of European settlement;
human migrations are accompanied by floral and faunal
migrations, either accidentally (in animal feed) or
intentionally (as garden plants). Moose, snowshoe hare,
red squirrel, striped chipmunk, and masked shrew, among
others, have been introduced to the island through
specific wildlife mandates.
The marine waters around
the province are considered to be
sub-Arctic in nature. During winter sea ice forms along
the coast of Labrador and along the west and north east
coasts of the island of Newfoundland. Summer surface
water temperatures rarely exceed 16 degrees Celsius.
Although common in the tundra region, polar bears are often seen in locations further south. This
generally occurs in the spring as sea ice along the Labrador coast breaks up and is carried south by
the ocean's currents.
Reproduced by permission of Brian C. Bursey. From Brian
C. Bursey, Newfoundland and Labrador Souvenir Book (Canada: Friesen Printers, ©1997) 48.
Much of the coastline is rocky, providing attachment for a wide
variety of plant and animal life. The dominant plants of the shoreline
are the large brown seaweeds (especially the bladder, forked and knotted
wracks, and winged and sugar kelps), although there are also a number
of red and green seaweeds present. Common animals of the seashore region
include barnacles, tortoiseshell limpet, periwinkles, blue mussel, sea
anemones, sea slugs, sea urchins, sea stars, and rock crabs. The deeper
offshore waters are home to a variety of fish (cod, sculpins, cunners
etc.), and marine mammals (dolphins, porpoises, and whales). A number
of seals are commonly found around the coasts with harp and hood seals
giving birth to their young on ice floes during the spring.
©1997, Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site Project