Miguasha National Park is a paleontological site on the southern coast of the Gaspé peninsula in southeastern Québec, Canada, is considered the most outstanding fossil site in the world for its picture of the Devonian Period Age of Fishes. The Upper Devonian Escuminac Formation there, dating from 370 million years ago, contains five of the six fossil fish groups known from the period and the highest number and best-preserved fossils of the lobe-finned fishes that gave rise to the first four-legged, air-breathing terrestrial vertebrates, the tetrapods.
Mineral filled crevices at the Gaspe Peninsula. Source: Univ. of Georgia World Heritage Site
Miguasha National Park (Parc National de Miguasha) was inscribed on the World Heritage List under Natural criterion viii. in the year 1999. Its IUCN Management Category is designated as a National Park.
Canadian Taiga (1.2.3)
On the southern coast of the Gaspé peninsula in southeastern Québec province, lying along the north shore of the Ristigouche River estuary, opposite the town of Dalhousie at 48°06'N by 66°22'W.
History of establishment
1842: First discovered by the geologist Abraham Gesner and well studied since 1879; 1985: Declared a Provincial Park by Decree 146-85 of the Parks Law (L.R.Q.,Ch.P-9) and Decree 90-023 of the Mining Law, for the geological and paleontological value of the site; 1972: The strip of land along the cliffs containing an important piece of the Escuminac Formation was bought by the Québec government to keep it in Canadian ownership.
The Government of Québec. The buffer zone is private land and includes part of the former Seigneurie Shoolbred now divided between 100 smallholders. The site is managed by the Fauna Conservation Service of the Ministry of Environment and Fauna.
La seigneurie de Shoolbred
Avant l’arrivée des Européens en terre d’Amérique, la Baie-des-Chaleurs fait partie d’un vaste territoire qui sert de lieu de chasse et de pêche pour les Micmacs, une nation autochtone de la famille des Algonquiens.
The total areal extent of this National Park is 87.3 hectares. It has a protected peripheral buffer area of 775 hectares.
The elevation of the National Park extends from sea level to 220 meters in altitude, averaging 40 meters in altitude.
The Park comprises a coastal cliff that extends along Miguasha point and the north shore of the Ristigouche River where it opens into the Baie des Chaleurs on the southern side of the Gaspé peninsula. The exposure is represented in four distinct outcrops of the Escuminac Formation eight kilometers (km) long by one km wide, which has a maximum height of 100 meters (m) and an underground component extending 300-600 meters below the surface. The most important of the outcrops stretches for three km, rises to 30 m, and forms the main part of the Park. The principal occurrence is oriented east-west revealing a long anticline and syncline, the latter elevated over some degrees. The Escuminac Formation dates from the Upper Devonian Period 353-375 million years ago when the area was a tropical estuary inhabited by primitive forms of life. It is composed of alternating gray layers of thick sandstone, mudstone, and calcareous schists. The largely conglomerate Fleurant Formation is found at its base. It is capped by the carboniferous Bonaventure Formation, the reddish colour of which is the origin of the Micmac Indian word miguasha. The Devonian is the period when fishes first diversified, took to freshwater, and gave rise to the first terrestrial vertebrates. Several groups of plants and invertebrates also began to develop, but gradual cooling associated with tectonic movement caused the disappearance of several other groups of invertebrates and primitive fishes.
The present climate is cool maritime, influenced by the relatively warm Baie des Chaleurs, with cold, wet winters and humid, moderate summers. The nomination stated that conditions were comparable in ways with those of Montreal where average temperatures are -6 Celsius (C) to -16 C in winter, 14 C to 26 C in summer with an average rainfall 1024 millimeters, heaviest between August and November. The Devonian climate was tropical.
The present site is occupied by a mixture of cultivated crops and some boreal trees such as fir, birch, and thuya. But some 370 million years ago, the coast was a tropical estuary populated with abundant primitive life-forms, many of great evolutionary and phylogenetic interest. The macroflora includes 10 species of the first vascular plants of Devonian forests, algae, some 80 spore fossil species, and Archaeopteris halliana, a 20 meter tall spore-bearing precursor to the modern Gymnosperma and Spermasposita, which is considered the oldest flowering plant.
The site’s existing fauna is unexceptional. Its designation is entirely for its fossil remains. A two-million-year representation of Devonian life is preserved in the remarkably rich fossil beds exposed in the cliffs of Miguasha. There more than 100 vertebrate species, notably fish, and invertebrate species such as the 30 centimeters Petaloscorpio bureaui, the first terrestrial scorpion, a fossil centipede discovered in 2003, ten species of primitive plants, algae, and micro-organisms. These have allowed scientists to construct an almost complete picture of Devonian life of the time. In the warm tidal waters an astonishing variety of fish thrived, 21 species of which made Miguasha famous. Some were spiny, some armor-plated and the crossopterygian Eusthenopteron foordi had already developed the limb-like fins that enabled them to crawl across mud flats and the two-way gill and lung system which gave rise to the modern conception of evolution from fish to four-limbed terrestrial tetrapod vertebrates.
None of some 60 Devonian period fossil sites worldwide matches Miguasha in abundance of specimens, representation of vertebrate evolution in the oldest known ancestral amphibian, or quality of preservation: the fossils even of soft body parts, gill imprints, digestive traces, and the cartilaginous parts of skeletons remain in exceptional condition. Some 5,000 fossils have been identified, described, stored and computerized. Important specimens include Legendrelepis parenti of the jawless Agnatha fish group and unique to the Escuminac Formation; Diplocanthus horridus of the Acanthodian spiny fish group, and the first jawed fish to evolve; Bothriolepis canadensis of the then common bony-shielded Placoderms; Cheirolepis canadensis of the Actinopterygian group, from which 90% of all fish (over 29,000 taxa) derive; Miguashaia bureaui, morphologically identical to Latimeria chalumnae, the sole Coelacanthi of today; Scaumenacia curta, a fossil fish with both lungs and gills - an important climatic indicator, and Eusthenopteron foordi of the crossopterygian group. In addition, Petaloscorpio bureaui, is an important scorpionid indicator of the paleoenvironment. Of the eight fish groups associated with this period, six are found at Miguasha; the other two are typically marine. This representation is uncommon among sites of the same age and this is the only Devonian site on the World Heritage List.
The area of the Baie des Chaleurs was part of the hunting and fishing territory of the Micmac, an indigenous Algonquian nation. Under the French between 1534 and 1760, the inhabitants were only a few seasonal fishermen and missionaries. After their conquest, English soldiers settled in Canada and loyal service to the king was rewarded by the grant of lands and lordships. In 1788, an English merchant named John Shoolbred was offered the lands which bear the name of his Seigneurie though he never lived there. This was a 30 km narrow strip along the north bank of the Ristigouche River including the small Miguasha peninsula. After abolition of the seigneurial system in 1855, several Acadian families were re-settled in the area. The site is also known as Bay of Escuminac Fossil Site and the Hugh-Miller Cliffs, after a 19th century Scottish stonemason-geologist famous for discovering many similar fossils in the Old Red Sandstone of Scotland as early as 1831.
Avec le Régime français, entre 1534 et 1760, seuls quelques pêcheurs saisonniers et des missionnaires chargés de convertir les Autochtones semblent avoir fréquenté l’extrémité de la région de la Baie-des-Chaleurs. Après la Conquête anglaise, des soldats britanniques qui avaient fait la guerre contre les Français pour s’emparer de la colonie, décidèrent de s’installer dans cette Amérique pleine de promesses. Le territoire de la seigneurie comprenait une bande de terre large de un à deux kilomètres le long de la rivière Ristigouche, partant de la Pointe-à-la-Garde et se rendant jusqu’à la limite actuelle entre les municipalités de Nouvelle et de Saint-Omer, incluant la petite péninsule de Miguasha.?
Local human population
There are no residents within Park boundaries. The Park headquarters are in the peripheral zone where there is a total of 120 permanent residents.
The number of visitors increased from 7236 in 1978 to about 40,000 in 1999 (IUCN, 1999). At Miguasha there is a fully equipped interpretation centre, opened in 1978, illustrating the plant and animal fossil remains of the area. Fossil specimens and/or reproductions from the site are lent to primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions for educational purposes, and in support of specific research endeavors or exhibitions. Materials are also exchanged with museums and scientific institutions to promote the research and value of the park.
The Miguasha fossil beds were discovered in 1842 by the geologist Abraham Gesner. Starting with expeditions by the Geological Survey of Canada between 1879 and 1881, a number of studies resulted in scientific description of the specimens. Between 1888 and 1892, important collections were sent to the British Museum in London and the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh, publicizing the scientific importance of the site. There followed a period of great interest from foreign scientists and collectors, with thousands of fossil specimens collected and shipped to museums and research institutes around the world. Many students have trained and continue to train on the site. Some 5,000 specimens have been identified, described, stored and computerized. Of particular importance is the presence of the crossopterygian group typified by Eusthenopteron foordi and Elpistostege watsoni which was notable for focusing the attention of international scientists on the Escuminac Formation and for initiating the modern conception of evolution from fish to terrestrial tetrapods, first recognized by the American palaeontologist Cope in 1892. Laboratory facilities are found within the park.
The Escuminac Formation constitutes a natural feature of national interest and unique character. For more than a century, the flora and fauna fossils of Miguasha have been recognized as unique for their abundance, Devonian ichthyofauna, and evolutionary representativeness, and have been visited by large numbers of scientists and collectors.
The site is managed by the Fauna Conservation Service of the Ministry of Environment and Fauna and a management plan has been prepared. In establishing the Park for conservation and recreation, all forms of exploitation, modification, or occupation which impact on the natural environment were prohibited. Quarrying from the cliffs, gathering of fossils from the beach or removal of specimens is strictly prohibited. The only forms of excavation permitted are for scientific research and development of the area, while visitor use is restricted to traveling through, observing, and appreciating the Park. The cliff and beach are part of the Preservation Zone. The interior buffer (Zone d'Ambiance) allows for intensive preservation and moderate utilization. There is also a small Service Zone. To provide further protection, the area in and around the Park is protected from mineral research and extraction by Decree 90-023 of 1990. There is also an education program for visitors.
According to the World Heritage Nomination, no major constraints appear to affect the site. This is due mainly to close observance of the laws regarding parks and fossil collection in Quebec. A rise in sea level due to climate change is a future possibility.
Comparison with similar sites
Devonian fish sites are marine in origin and are quite widespread. Other notable Devonian fossil deposits include those found in Scotland (Lethan Bar, Orkneys), Gogo in Australia, Lode in Latvia, Cleveland Shales in the United States, and Wildungen and Bergisch Gladbach in Germany. Based on the comparative study of fifteen fossiliferous sites of the Devonian, Cloutier and Lelièvre (1998) concluded the Escuminac Formation of Miguasha is the site most representative of the Devonian, clearly standing out from all the other sites for its evolutionary representativeness, the exceptional quality of fossil preservation and the abundance of vertebrate remains. They concluded that Miguasha ranks first in seven of ten categories: faunal representativeness of the major sarcopterygian groups, for paleobiology, and vertebrate evolutionary events; for the floral and faunal representativeness of the aquatic and terrestrial components of the assemblages; for the quality of preservation and anatomical completeness of vertebrate fossils, for the exceptional character of their fossilization, and for its abundance of specimens.
For biodiversity Miguasha’s fossils rank second behind those of Spitsbergen, Bad Wildungen, and the Cleveland Shale, and behind Spitsbergen for faunal representativeness of the major vertebrate groups; it ranks third for its representativeness of the major groups of placoderms.
In 1998 there were seven permanent staff complemented by a team of students in summer. The protection, administration, library and research facilities of the Park is the responsibility of the Fauna Conservation Service.
In 1998, the Park received C$255,000 for land purchase and a warehouse for stocking specimens. The total annual budget of the Park was C$303,900 in 1996-1997, C$292,700 in 1997-1998 and C$537,500 in 1998-1999.
Parc de Conservation de Miguasha, Ministère de l'Environnment et de la Faune, 270, rte Miguasha Ouest, C.P.183, Nouvelle, Québec, Canada G0C 2E0.
- IUCN (1999). World Heritage Nomination – IUCN Technical Evaluation. Miguasha Provincial Park, Canada. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. 7pp.
- The principal source for the above information was the original nomination for World Heritage status. There are some 1,500 references dealing with the Escuminac Formation and the fossils of the site. Below is a selection of key titles.
- Belles-Isles, M. (1987). Les Céphalaspides de l'Est du Québec et du Nord du Nouveau-Brunswick (Canada) des Formations d'Escuminac, de Battery Point et de la Garde, PhD thesis, Université de Paris VI. 272 p.< /li>
- Bureau, R. (1983a). Le site de Miguasha: aperçu historique. Gaspésie 21(1): 39-45.
- -------------- (1983b). Des chercheurs de fossiles. Gaspésie 21 (4): 12-22.
- Chidiac, Y. (1989). Analyse du Paléoenvironnement de la Formation d'Escuminac (Dévonien supérior), Miguasha, Québec, dans le Contexte des Données Sédimentologiques, Paleontologiques et Géochimiques. MSc thesis, Université du Québec, Montréal.
- Cloutier, R. & Lelièvre H. (1998). Comparative Study of the Fossiliferous Sites of the Devonian. Prepared for the Ministère de l'Environnment et de la Faune, Gouvernement du Québec. 86pp.
- Dineley, D. (1967). Ancient fishes of Escuminac Bay. Nat. Hist. 76 (1): 40-45.
- Dineley, D. & Williams, B. (1986). Sedimentation and paleontology of the Devonian Escuminac Formation and related strata, Escuminac Bay, Quebec. In Klein, G. ed). Symposium - Continental Sedimentation Northeastern North America. Special Paper Geol. Soc. Am., 106: 241-264.
- Gagnier, P. (1989). Analyses Anatomiques et Phylogénétiques de Quelques Vertébrés Paléozoïques Américains. 2. Les Poissons Acanthodiens de la Formation d'Escuminac, Canada. DSc thesis, Université des Sciences de Paris VII. 275p.
- Hesse, R. & Sawh, H. (1982). Escuminac Formation. Pp 72-80 In Hesse, R., Middleton, G & Rust, B. (eds), Paleozoic, Continental Margin Sedimentation in the Quebec Appalachians. 11th International Congress of Sedimentology, Hamilton, Ontario, Field Excursion.
- Hilton-Taylor, C. (compiler) (2008). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN, Cambridge, U.K
- Ministère du Loisir, de la Chasse et de la Pêche (1993). World Heritage Nomination: Dossier de Canditature: Parc de Miguasha, Québec, Canada. Québec. Québec, Canada. 10 pp +11 annexes.
- Ministère de l'Environnment et de la Faune (1998a). World Heritage Nomination. Dossier de canditature: Parc de Miguasha, Québec, Canada, Québec. Québec, Canada. 17 pp + 11 annexes:
- -------------------------------------------------------- (1998b). Parc de Miguasha. Plan Directeur. 88pp. --------------------------------------------------------- (1998c). Document de Synthèse sur la Gestion Intégrée de la Collection du Parc de Miguasha.
- Parent, N. & Cloutier ,R..(1996). Distribution and preservation of fossils in the Escuminac Formation. In Schultze, H.-P.,Cloutier, R. & Vézina, D. (eds), Geology and Paleontology of the Escuminac Formation, Miguasha, Québec, Canada. Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas and Parc de Miguasha.
- Schultze, H-P. (1984). Juvenile specimens of Eusthenopteron foordi Whiteaves, 1881 (osteolepiform rhipidistian, Pisces) from the Late Devonian of Miguasha, Quebec, Canada. J. Vert. Paleontol. 4: 1-16.
- ------------------- (1996). The vertebrates of the Escuminac Formation. In Schultze, H.-P. & Cloutier, R. (eds) . Devonian Fishes and Plants of Miguasha, Québec, Canada. Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil, Munich.
- Schultze, H.-P.& Cloutier, R. (eds) (1994.). Geology and Paleontology of the Escuminac Formation, Miguasha, Québec, Canada. Mus. Nat. Hist. Univ. Kansas and Parc de Miguasha. 370pp.
- Schultze, H.-P. & Cloutier, R.(eds) (1996). Devonian Fishes and Plants of Miguasha, Québec, Canada. Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil, Munich. 374pp.
- Traquair, R. (1890). Notes on the Devonian fishes of Scaumenac Bay and Campbellton in Canada. Geol. Mag. 7: 15-22.
- Vézina, D. (1988). Plourdosteus canadensis (Woodward 1892), Un Arthrodire du Frasnien Inférieur du Canada: Contribution a l'Étude Morphologique et Phylogénétique des Plourdosteidae (Vertebrata, Placodermi) du Dévonien Moyen et Supérieur. PhD thesis, Université de Paris VII.
- -------------- (1991). Nouvelles observations sur l'environnement sédimentaire de la Formation d'Escuminac (Dévonien Supérieur, Frasnien), Québec, Canada. Can.J.Earth Sci, 28: 225-230.
- Vézina, D. & Arsenault, M. (eds). (1991). 7th International Symposium on the Studies of Early Vertebrates. Abstracts. Parc de Miguasha, Québec.