Humid rainforests and frosted tundras: Exploring Canada’s biomes and ecologies

By: Callum Denault

Published on: April 26th, 2024

By: Avneet Kaur (Pexels)

Humid rainforests and frosted tundras: Exploring Canada’s biomes and ecologies

Canada is known for its diversity, which extends to the variety of beautiful environments across its massive landscape. From humid rainforests to frozen tundra, the country boasts a range of different biomes found in various regions.

Physiographic regions: The seven big parts of Canada

According to a map made by the Canadian government, seven major parts of Canada are distinguished by the physical shape of their terrain.

These places are called physiographic regions, and the biggest one is The Canadian Shield, which takes up 48 per cent of Canada’s total size. It encompasses all of Ontario and most of Quebec and Nunavut.

Such large areas are home to a wide array of different biomes, with the Canadian Shield housing several types of grasslands, forests, bodies of water, and other habitats. However, noticeable environmental differences exist between physiographic regions. For instance, the Arctic region to Canada’s north stands out because its very ground is permanently frozen, referred to as “permafrost.”

The west coast region is Cordillera, stretching across British Columbia all the way to the Yukon. While the terrain here varies from flat to rocky, it is most famous for its impressive mountain ranges, some of which were created by volcanoes. Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba all share the interior plains, which are made of flat grasslands to the south and forests further north.

Other physiographic regions include the Appalachian region, reserved for Canada’s east coast islands, such as Newfoundland. Additionally, swampy lowlands can be found around large bodies of water, such as Hudson’s Bay and the St. Lawrence River.

Planet Earth’s biggest forest

The boreal forest accounts for one-third of Earth’s forested areas, making up 14 percent of the planet’s entire landmass.

Despite being such a large region, most Canadians live further south and west of the forest. For instance, while most of Ontario consists of boreal forest, most of its people live in cities built in a warmer, flatter area called “mixed wood plains.’

Still, an impressive 3.7 million people live in the boreal zone of Canada, primarily in rural communities. Canada’s forests are especially vital to the nation’s Indigenous people, given that 70 per cent of all Indigenous communities are located in forested areas.

These forests are a major source of freshwater. They also house some of North America’s most iconic animals, such as bears, wolves, caribou, and several different types of fish and birds. Unfortunately, these forests are threatened by loggers, miners, and oil operations that tear down forest areas for industrial use.

The prairies, aka the inner plains

This area overlaps with the inner plains physiographic region, covering a large portion of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Despite being known as a very flat land, the prairies are full of life. Manyanimal species prefer the flat grassy environment of the prairies, such as coyotes, pronghorns, and the appropriately named prairie dogs. Bison, North America’s largest mammal, were almost made extinct from overhunting. However, conservation efforts saved them from being critically endangered, so these magnificent beasts can still freely roam the open plains.

Another feature of the prairies specific to Alberta is its massive oil reserves, a huge economic benefit to the province. This, combined with Alberta’s cultural love of cowboys and its traditionally conservative values, has earned it the reputation of a Canadian Texas.

The temperate rainforests of British Columbia

No list of Canada’s biomes would be complete without mentioning that a country known for its cold weather actually has rainforests, at least temperate ones. British Columbia is home to several rainforests, which make it a popular tourist attraction.

The Great Bear Forest is known not only for its size but also for housing the rare Kermode bear, also known as the spirit bear. Ten percent of the region’s black bears carry a mutation that can give them white fur, making sightings of these unique bears a sought-after experience for many.

Vancouver is considered to have an oceanic environment, given its location next to the Pacific Ocean. It is one of the warmest cities in Canada, making it an attractive tourist destination and a home for many newcomers.

The tundra

Finally, Canada’s most extreme yet arguably most iconic biome is the tundra. Arctic tundra is known for being nearly treeless, and the plants growing here tend to be low to the ground, such as grasses, small shrubs, and lichens.

During the summer, a thin layer of permafrost thaws, allowing plants to dig their roots downwards. This period marks a boom in plant and insect life, which is markedly different from the harsher conditions felt during winter.

Despite this, Canada’s northern territories are home to multiple cities and towns, including Yellowknife, Whitehorse, and Iqaluit. The Inuit people also have a variety of traditions that allowed them to not only survive but thrive in the Arctic tundra thousands of years before European settlers arrived.

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