This ecoregion has a high arctic and oceanic high arctic ecoclimate. A humid, extremely cold climate is marked by very short, cold summers. Mean annual temperature is -11.5°C. Mean summer temperature is 1°C, and mean winter temperature is -23°C. Mean annual precipitation is 200-400 millimeters (mm) overall, with 400-600 mm centering around the Cumberland Penninsula.
This ecoregion is comprised of the Baffin Mountains, an elevated belt of deeply dissected crystalline rocks that extend along the northeastern flank if Baffin and Bylot Islands. Ice-capped mountains reach 1525-2135 meters above sea level (masl). Sloping gently westward, the ecoregion’s general aspect is one of a broad, gently warped, old erosion surface etched by erosion along joint systems and zones of weakness. Long arms of the sea penetrate as glacier-filled sounds or fjords; some cut through highlands to Baffin upland to the east. The ecoregion is underlain by deep, continuous permafrost with low ice content. Bare bedrock is common.
The dominant vegetation is a discontinuous cover of mosses, lichens, and cold-hardy vascular plants such as sedge (Carex spp.) and cotton grass (Eriophorum spp.).
Characteristic wildlife include arctic hare (Lepus acticus), arctic fox (Alopex lagopus), and caribou (Rangifer tarandus). Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are common in coastal areas. Representative birds include king eider (Somateria spectabilis), rock ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus), northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), plover (Charadrius spp. and Pluvialis spp.), hoary redpoll (Carduelis hornemanni) and snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis). Marine mammals include walrus (Odobenus rosmarus), seal (Phocidae) and a variety of whales (Cetacea).
Among the many ecologically significant features this ecoregion includes are: snow goose (Chen caerulescens) nesting colonies (Bylot Island) - one of the largest colonies globally; and nesting cliffs at Bylot Island for major colonies of thick-billed murres (Uria lomvia) and black-legged kittiwakes (Riss tridactyla). A large proportion of polar bears in the Northwest Territories/Greenland shared population is found in this area in the summer along the coast, and denning and maternal denning sites are found inland. Caribou calving sites (relatively undescribed) are found in higher elevations and seasonal migration to summer feeding in areas in valleys.
Habitat Loss and Degradation
Remaining Blocks of Intact Habitat
The ecoregion can be considered as intact.
Degree of Fragmentation
The region is not fragmented.
Degree of Protection
- Part of Auyuittuq National Park - Northwest Territories - 21,471.1 km2
- Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (not as highly protected) - Northwest Territories - 259 km2
Types and Severity of Threats
Threats are relatively minor. One is atmospheric fallout, resulting in heavy metal and pesticide pollution. There is a risk of oil spills in coastal areas. Ecotourism will need to be carefully managed in order that nesting bird colonies, caribou calving grounds and other sensitive wildlife species are not disturbed. With increased access, over-hunting of caribou is a possibility.
Suite of Priority Activities to Enhance Biodiversity Conservation
- Complete designation of North Baffin Island National Park.
- Develop management plans and set specific recommendations to protect caribou calving sites.
- Canadian Arctic Resources Committee
- Ecology North
- Nunavut Wildlife Management Board
- World Wildlife Fund Canada
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