Eastern Canadian forests

Content Cover Image

Walker Lake, near Port Cartier, Quebec, Canada Photograph by Lynda Dredge/Used with permission of the Geological Survey of Canada, Natural Resources Canada

The Eastern Canadian forests ecoregion is distinguished from the Central Canadian Shield forests by a greater maritime influence, and a dominant tree, Balsam fir, as the climatic climax species. The Eastern Canadian forests, part of the Nearctic Realm, characterise forested land in eastern Quebec, much of Newfoundland, and disjunct occurrences in the highlands of New Brunswick, and Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia; in all, this ecoregion comprises seven major disjunctive geographic units.

The ecoclimate of this ecoregion ranges from high and mid-boreal and perhumid mid-boreal to Oceanic, Atlantic, and Maritime mid-boreal. Summers are generally cool, with average temperatures ranging between 8.5°C in the north to 14.5°C in the south. Winter temperatures vary according to proximity to the ocean and continental land mass. Thus, winters tend to be colder in Quebec and Labrador, particularly in the north, where mean temperatures range from -8°C to -13°C. On the Island of Newfoundland, winters are shorter and milder, where mean temperatures vary between -5.5°C to -1°C. Precipitation follows a similar pattern, there being less in the western, continental part of the ecoregion (800 to 1000 millimetres (mm)) than in the eastern and southern coastal areas and the Island of Newfoundland (1000 to 1200 mm in the north, 1200 to 1600 mm in the south). Coastal areas, especially in southeastern and northern Newfoundland and the Cape Breton Highlands, are particularly prone to heavy fog. Also, sea ice plays a significant role in the adjacent terrestrial climate of this ecoregion around the Strait of Belle Isle.

A wide range of physiographic features characterise this ecoregion, most of which are the result of glaciation. In the eastern part of the ecoregion, from Lac St. Jean south to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and as far west as the Labrador coast, the region is underlain by massive Precambrian and Archean granites and gneisses, and lies between sea level and 600 metres above sea level. There are steep slopes that rise abruptly above the St. Lawrence river, and the interior of this part of the ecoregion is rolling or undulating and glacial drift-covered. Also, this portion of the ecoregion is incised by several large, expansive river valleys. Isolated pockets of permafrost are found in some parts of this area, but become less common to the east and south. As one moves east toward the Atlantic coast, the surface becomes rougher, and surface deposits become thin and discontinuous, heavily influenced by fluvioglacial processes. The portions of the ecoregion in southeastern Labrador are also characterized by deeply dissected margins. On the Island of Newfoundland, the physiography is also a result of glaciation, but rock outcrops also become common amidst hummocky, undulating, and sometimes ridged morainal deposits of varying thicknesses of sand or loam. The southern part of the island is part of the Appalachian peneplain, composed of a mix of soft, late, mostly unfolded Precambrian sedimentary and volcanic rocks. On the Gaspé Peninsula and in the New Brunswick and Cape Breton Highlands, the Appalachian peneplain is also a factor, but is characterized by hummocky to mountainous terrain, underlain by folded Paleozoic sandstones and quartzites. Fluvioglacial deposits occur mostly in the valleys. This is some of the highest terrain on the east coast of Canada, and some peaks of the Appalachian range reach above 1000 metres elevation in the Gaspe peninsula. Anticosti Island stands out in this ecoregion, as it is a south-dipping cuesta of Paleozoic carbonate strata, and relief rarely reaches 150 meters asl. Along the coastlines of the entire ecoregion differential erosion has played a significant role. Also, especially on the east coast of the Island of Newfoundland, the exposed bedrock terrain often manifests slopes of up to a thirty percent grade.

Biological distinctiveness

caption Red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Source: Vicki Nolan


This ecoregion is an element of the Boreal forests/taiga biome. The boreal forest in this bioregion is characterised by a mix of Balsam fir (Abies balsamea) and Black spruce (Picea mariana). Balsam fir dominates to the east as a result of the maritime influence of the Atlantic. Paper birch (Betula papyrifera), Aspen (Populus tremuloides), and Black spruce are typical of disturbed sites. White spruce (P. glauca) dominates in coastal areas where sea salt spray affects plant distributions. Moss-heath vegetation or barrens are also common in coastal areas affected by high winds; The Burnt Cape Reserve in Newfoundland is a prime example of rare coastal plantlife on a limestone barrens. The warmer Lac St. Jean valley is dominated by mixed woodland more typical of southern climes; Sugar maple (Acer saccharum), Beech (Fagus grandifolia) and Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) occur on upland sites, while Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), Balsam fir, Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), and White spruce prevail in valleys.

This ecoregion exhibits high levels of plant endemism in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with between 100 and 150 endemic species. Maritime heath vegetation, a continentally unique plant assemblage, occurs in areas on the island of Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence shore in Quebec.


The entire ecoregion provides prime habitat for many mammalian species, including moose (Alces alces), black bear (Ursus americanus), lynx (Lynx canadensis), and red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus ssp. caribou) can also be found through the area, with the exception of the New Brunswick and Cape Breton Highlands. In the central Laurentians, the northeastern portion of the ecoregion, snowshoe hare are common, and the wolf is an important predator. Marten (Martes americana), Beaver (Castor canadensis), Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), Bobcat (Lynx rufus), and rabbit are common in the Appalachian regions.


There are several anuranAn amphibian that has limbs but no tail (includes all frogs and toads) taxa present in the Eastern Canadian forests, including: the Amarican toad (Anaxyrus americanus), Bronze frog (Lithobates clamitans), Mink frog (Lithobates septentrionalis), Northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens), Wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) and Pickerel frog (Lithobates palustris).

Salamander family members that occur within the ecoregion are: Blue-spotted salamander (Ambystoma laterale), Eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens), Northern two-lined salamander (Eurycea bislineata), Red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus), and Spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum).


There is only one reptile species that occurs in the ecoregion: the Common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis).


Goose, Ptarmigan (Lagopus spp.) and Ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) are common in the north. Because of the length of coastline associated with this ecoregion, the area also supports a great variety of seabirds such as Murre (Uria spp.), Eider (Somateria spp.), Terns (Sterna spp.), and Puffins (Fratercula spp.). In fact, substantial seabird colonies are also found along the shorelines of this ecoregion. In addition, seasonal bird populations vary significantly, as the eastern portion of the ecoregion is in the path of the Atlantic migratory flyway.

Conservation status

Habitat loss and degradation

Approximately forty percent of this ecoregion remains as intactThe condition of an ecological habitat being an undisturbed or natural environment habitat. The majority of this occurs along the northern portions of the ecoregion in Quebec. Parts of the ecoregion in the Gaspé, northern New Brunswick and Newfoundland have been heavily altered by a long history of human settlement. Some areas have been extensively logged and not returned to their original vegetation communities, often remaining as barrens or shrublands. Mining in some localized areas has also resulted in habitat loss (e.g. Matamec, Quebec).

Remaining blocks of intact habitat

Most remaining habitat blocks are in the northern portions of the ecoregion. No major, intactThe condition of an ecological habitat being an undisturbed or natural environment habitat blocks remain in Newfoundland or the Gaspé outside of protected areas.

Degree of fragmentation

Fragmentation of forest habitat is most notable. Little in the way of mature forest habitat remains throughout much of this ecoregion. Road networks through parts of the ecoregion (including logging roads) contribute to habitat fragmentation as well.

Degree of protection

caption Baie du Nord, Newfoundland, Canada. Source: D. Hustins
  • Bay du Nord Provincial Wilderness Reserve - south-central Newfoundland - 2,895 square-kilometers (km2)
  • Monts Valin Provincial Park - north of the Saguenay River, south-central Quebec
  • Avalon Provincial Wilderness Reserve - eastern Newfoundland - 1,070 km2
  • Cape Breton Highlands National Park - northern Nova Scotia - 950.53 km2
  • Parc de la Gaspésie - eastern Quebec - 801.7 km2
  • Middle Ridge Provincial Wildlife Reserve - south-central Newfoundland - 618 km2
  • Terra Nova National Park - eastern Newfoundland - 405 km2
  • Saguenay Provincial Park - south-central Quebec - 283.6 km2
  • Polletts Cove, Aspy Fault Protected Area - Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia - 275.66 km2
  • Forillon National Park - eastern Quebec - 240.4 km2

Ecoregion threats

caption Pond and forest scene, near Terra Nova, Newfoundland. Source: C. Michael Hogan Logging is by far the most extensive threat to this ecoregion. In one logging license area in Quebec, 15,000 square kilometres of forest are scheduled to be logged in the coming twenty years. Logging elsewhere, combined with fuel-wood harvest by coastal communities, has resulted in very little original forest remaining. Species composition has changed dramatically in historic times since European settlement of this region. Mining and mineral exploration are rapidly expanding in this ecoregion. Locally, peat extraction is of concern to some wetland habitats, particularly in Newfoundland.

Suite of priority activities to enhance biodiversity

  • A Protected Areas Strategy has been launched in Newfoundland/Labrador. These actions were originally slated to be implemented by the year 2000 with appropriate representative protected areas established. In the interim, the Little Grand Lake proposed ecological reserve needs permanent protection.
  • More protected areas are required for the Christmas Mountains and surrounding area in New Brunswick.
  • Protected areas in Quebec that need to be established include:

Conservation partners

  • Action: Environment
  • Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Nova Scotia Chapter
  • Cape Breton Naturalists Society
  • Conservation Council of New Brunswick
  • Federation of Nova Scotia Naturalists
  • Friends of the Christmas Mountains National Park
  • Heritage Foundation Terra Nova
  • Les Amis de plein air de Cheticamp
  • Margaree Environmental Society
  • Natural History Society of Newfoundland and Labrador
  • The Nature Conservancy, Quebec
  • Nature Trust of New Brunswick
  • New Brunswick Federation of Naturalists
  • New Brunswick Protected Natural Areas Coalition
  • Newfoundland/Labrador Environmental Association
  • Nova Scotia Nature Trust
  • Protected Areas Association of Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Sierra Club, Cape Breton Group
  • Tuckamore Wilderness Society
  • UQCN - Union Québecoise pour la Conservation de la Nature
  • World Wildlife Fund Canada, Quebec Region

Relationship to other classification schemes

This area corresponds to the terrestrial ecoregions of the Central Laurentians (TEC 101), the Mecatina Plateau (TEC 103), the northern Appalachians (TEC 117), and Anticosti Island (TEC 102). The Eastern Canadian forests in Labrador cover the Paradise River and Lake Melville regions (TEC 104 and 105). On the Island of Newfoundland, ecoregions include the Strait of Belle Isle (TEC 106), the Northern Peninsula (TEC 107), the Maritime Barrens (TEC 114), the Avalon Forest (TEC 115) and Southwestern, Central, and Northeastern Newfoundland (TEC 109, 112 and 113). In New Brunswick, the New Brunswick Highlands (TEC 119) are home to Eastern Canadian forests, and in Nova Scotia, the Cape Breton Highlands (TEC 129) are as well.

The Eastern Canadian forests area is also characterized by numerous Rowe forest regions and sections. Boreal forest sections include: Laurentide-Onatchiway, Chibougamau-Natashquan, Gaspé, Hamilton and Eagle Valleys, Northeastern Transition, Grand Falls, Corner Brook, Anticosti, Northern Peninsula, Avalon, Newfoundland-Labrador Barrens and Forest-Tundra 1a and b, 2, 12, 13a, 28a, 28b, 28c, 29-32). In this part of the Acadian forest region are the New Brunswick Uplands and the Cape Breton Plateau (1 and 6). The Saguenay section (7) of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence forests is also part of the Eastern Canadian forests. The Eastern Canadian forests ecoregion is given the ecocode NA0605 by the World Wildlife Fund.

Neighbouring ecoregions

The following ecoregions have some tangency to the Eastern Canadian forests:


  • Bell, Trevor; Liverman, David. Landscape of Newfoundland and Labrador. Memorial University of Newfoundland. Retrieved June 16, 2008.
  • Canadian Plains Research Center Mapping Division. 2006. Location of the Trans-Hudson Orogen. Canadian Plains Research Center Mapping Division
  • Elkanah Billings and Joseph Frederick Whiteaves. 1865. Palaeozoic fossils: Volume 2, Part 1. Geological Survey of Canada
  • Geological Survey of Canada. 1946. Geological Survey paper: Volume 46, Issue 15 books. google ebook
  • L.Hartery. 2007. The Cow Head Complex and the Recent Indian Period in Newfoundland, Labrador, and the Quebec Lower North Shore. Occasional Papers in Northeastern Archaeology No. 17. Copetown Press, St. John’s.
  • S.Meades, S.G.Hay and L. Brouillet. 2000. Annotated Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Newfoundland and Labrador. The Provincial Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador. Co-operative Projects and Partnerships.

Disclaimer: This article contains certain information that was originally published by the World Wildlife Fund. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth have edited its content and added new information. The use of information from the World Wildlife Fund should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.




Fund, W. (2015). Eastern Canadian forests. Retrieved from


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