This ecoregion occupies the northernmost part of Labrador and the western slopes of the Torngat Mountains in Quebec. It is a mountainous region principally covered by arctic vegetation, although these gradually integrate with boreal elements towards the southern end of the region and in valleys/river corridors that penetrate the mountains.
The ecoregion has a moist, low arctic ecoclimate. Its humid, cold climate is characterized by short, cool, moist summers (mean temperature 4°C), and long, cold winters (mean temperature -16.5°C). Mean annual temperature is -6.5°C. Mean annual precipitation is 400-700 millimeters (mm), with higher values occurring in the high central elevations.
The ecoregion is composed of massive Archean granitic rocks that form steep-sided, rounded mountains with deeply incised valleys and glacier-carved deep U-shaped valleys and fjords along the Labrador Sea coast. In the west, permafrost is continuous and marked by sporadic ice wedges, but becomes discontinuous though still extensive in the eastern, coastal portion.
The ecoregion is characterized by a sparse cover of lichen, moss, arctic sedge (Carex spp.), grass (Gramineae), and patches of arctic mixed evergreen and deciduous shrubs on sheltered, south-facing valley slopes. Unvegetated rock and tundra (arctic heath made up of lichens, mosses, and sedges) each comprise about 50 percent of the upland surfaces. White birch (Betula papyrifera)/willow (Salix spp.) thickets growing on less stable scree frequently form a transition zone between the tundra and the very open spruce forests. Arctic black spruce (Picea mariana) with mixed evergreen and deciduous shrubs, underlain by moss, is dominant on wetter sites.
Wildlife in the ecoregion is characterized mostly by small mammals, although the Torngat Mountains do provide seasonal habitat for polar bear (Ursus maritimus) and caribou (Rangifer tarandus). This ecoregion is home to the only global population of tundra-dwelling black bears (Ursus americanus) and completely encompasses the range of the Torngat caribou herd (approximately 10,000 animals). It also provides habitat for the southernmost denning of polar bears on the North American east coast. In addition, the coastal area of this ecoregion lies along the Atlantic migratory flyway.
Habitat Loss and Degradation
This ecoregion is still essentially intact.
Remaining Blocks of Intact Habitat
Degree of Fragmentation
Fjords intersect the coastline in a manner that naturally fragments some of the terrestrial habitat. The valley and ridge system in the mountains plays an important role in wildlife movement patterns.
Degree of Protection
There are no protected areas, although negotiations are proceeding to establish a national park covering a significant portion of this ecoregion. A candidate provincial park and a proposal for a provincial ecological reserve overlap much of the Quebec portion of this ecoregion.
Types and Severity of Threats
There is mineral interest throughout this mountainous area, although no major commercial finds have been made. Any development in valleys and lowlands could disrupt seasonal movements of large mammals such as caribou and tundra-dwelling black bears.
This ecoregion is extremely fragile. Many wildlife species are at low population levels due to the low productivity of the land and harsh climatic conditions. These species are particularly vulnerable to human development pressures and any future recreational and tourism activities will need to be strictly managed so as not to interfere with the wildlife of the area.
Suite of Priority Activities to Enhance Biodiversity Conservation
- Establish the Torngat Mountains National Park in northern Labrador.
- Establish the candidate provincial park and ecological reserve on the Quebec portion of the ecoregion.
- Action: Environment
- Canadian Nature Federation
- Labrador Inuit Association
- Natural History Society of Newfoundland and Labrador
- Newfoundland/Labrador Environmental Association
- Protected Areas Association of Newfoundland and Labrador
- World Wildlife Fund Canada, Quebec Region
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