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Boreal Shield and Newfoundland Boreal ecozones+ evidence for key findings summary

Key Findings at a Glance: National and Ecozone+ Level

Table 3 and Table 4 present the national key findings from Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010Reference6 together with a summary of the corresponding trends in the Boreal Shield and Newfoundland Boreal ecozones+, respectively. Topic numbers refer to the national key findings in Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010. Topics that are greyed out were key findings at the national level, but were either not relevant or not assessed for this ecozone+ and do not appear in the body of this document. Evidence for the statements that appear in this table is found in the subsequent text organized by key finding. See the Preface on page ii.

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Boreal Shield Ecozone+

Table 3. Key findings overview for the Boreal Shield Ecozone+.

3.1 Theme: Biomes
Themes and topicsKey findings: nationalKey findings: Boreal Shield ecozone+
ForestsAt a national level, the extent of forests has changed little since 1990; at a regional level, loss of forest extent is significant in some places. The structure of some Canadian forests, including species composition, age classes, and size of intact patches of forest, has changed over longer time frames.In 2005, forests covered 88% of the Boreal Shield Ecozone+. Although coverage was stable from 1985 to 2005 in managed forests, mixed and deciduous-dominated stands have replaced conifer-dominated stands as a result of natural regeneration after harvesting. Logging has replaced fire as the dominant forest disturbance; however, the forest industry has slowed since 2004.
GrasslandsNative grasslands have been reduced to a fraction of their original extent. Although at a slower pace, declines continue in some areas. The health of many existing grasslands has also been compromised by a variety of stressors.Not relevant
WetlandsHigh loss of wetlands has occurred in southern Canada; loss and degradation continue due to a wide range of stressors. Some wetlands have been or are being restored.Over 320,000 km2 of wetlands are located in this ecozone+. Between 1960 and 2000, 9,000 km2 of wetlands were flooded for hydroelectric developments. Between 1980 and 2000,  250 km2 of peatlands were drained for forestry.
Lakes and riversTrends over the past 40 years influencing biodiversity in lakes and rivers include seasonal changes in magnitude of stream flows, increases in river and lake temperatures, decreases in lake levels, and habitat loss and fragmentation.Conditions in lakes and rivers vary across the ecozone+. Dominant patterns include declining annual flows, earlier maximum flows, decreasing rates of water level rise, and increasing water level fall rates.
CoastalCoastal ecosystems, such as estuaries, salt marshes, and mud flats, are believed to be healthy in less-developed coastal areas, although there are exceptions. In developed areas, extent and quality of coastal ecosystems are declining as a result of habitat modification, erosion, and sea-level rise.Rates of erosion increased between 1990 and 2004, especially for sandy coastlines and low clayey cliffs.
MarineObserved changes in marine biodiversity over the past 50 years have been driven by a combination of physical factors and human activities, such as oceanographic and climate variability and overexploitation. While certain marine mammals have recovered from past overharvesting, many commercial fisheries have not.Not relevant
Ice across biomesDeclining extent and thickness of sea ice, warming and thawing of permafrost, accelerating loss of glacier mass, and shortening of lake-ice seasons are detected across Canada's biomes. Impacts, apparent now in some areas and likely to spread, include effects on species and food webs.Break-up of lake ice has shifted earlier and become faster, and lake ice freeze-up has shifted later in the southern part of the ecozone+. Thawing and peatland collapse has occurred over the last 50 to 100 years in northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

 

3.2 Theme: Human/Ecosystem Interactions
Themes and topicsKey findings: nationalKey findings: Boreal Shield ecozone+
Protected areasBoth the extent and representativeness of the protected areas network have increased in recent years. In many places, the area protected is well above the United Nations 10% target. It is below the target in highly developed areas and the oceans.In 2009, 8.1% (143,491 km2) of the ecozone+ was protected and 7.9% in protected areas classified as IUCN categories I–IV, areas protected for natural and cultural conservation rather than sustainable use by established cultural tradition. In 1992, only 3% of the ecozone+ was protected. The rate of protection has increased since the 1970s.
StewardshipStewardship activity in Canada is increasing, both in number and types of initiatives and in participation rates. The overall effectiveness of these activities in conserving and improving biodiversity and ecosystem health has not been fully assessed.Stewardship activities in the ecozone+ are coordinated among larger conservation, First Nations, and industry networks. Examples include the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, the Boreal Leadership Council, the Oil Sands Leadership Initiative in Alberta, the Boreal Peatlands Stewardship Strategy in Manitoba, Ontario's Safe Harbour Agreement, and Ducks Unlimited projects.
Invasive non-native speciesInvasive non-native species are a significant stressor on ecosystem functions, processes, and structure in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine environments. This impact is increasing as numbers of invasive non-native species continue to rise and their distributions continue to expand.Invasive species have spread from southern Quebec eastward and from Ontario westward. Species of particular concern include rusty crayfish, spiny water flea, and purple loosestrife.
ContaminantsConcentrations of legacy contaminants in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine systems have generally declined over the past 10 to 40 years. Concentrations of many emerging contaminants are increasing in wildlife; mercury is increasing in some wildlife in some areas.Acid deposition, forestry, and hydroelectric projects increase mercury concentrations. Mercury concentrations in aquatic environments rise, and then decline in the years to decades after reservoir creation. Air mercury measurements within or near the Boreal Shield Ecozone+ indicate that concentrations are low and near global background levels. Species that eat fish have elevated mercury levels.
Nutrient loading and algal bloomsInputs of nutrients to both freshwater and marine systems, particularly in urban and agriculture-dominated landscapes, have led to algal blooms that may be a nuisance and/or may be harmful. Nutrient inputs have been increasing in some places and decreasing in others.The Boreal Shield Ecozone+ contains a relatively small amount of agricultural land given its size. From 1981 to 2006, nitrogen inputs increased from 82.4 to 107 kg N/ha. From 1981 to 2006, nitrogen outputs increased from 62.6 to 74.0 kg N/ha. Residual soil nitrogen increased from 19.8 kg N/ha in 1981 to 33.0 kg N/ha in 2006. The number of lakes and rivers affected by blue-green algae in the eastern ecozone+ increased from fewer than 10 in 2004 to over 80 in 2008.
Acid depositionThresholds related to ecological impact of acid deposition, including acid rain, are exceeded in some areas, acidifying emissions are increasing in some areas, and biological recovery has not kept pace with emission reductions in other areas.Acid-sensitive terrain occurs throughout the ecozone+. Areas of maximum acid deposition are concentrated in the southeastern part of the ecozone+ in Quebec and near metal smelters in the western portion in Ontario. Lakes in Quebec and Ontario are sensitive to acid deposition. Following peaks in lake acidity in the 1970s, conditions have improved where point sources of acid deposition were strictly controlled.
Climate changeRising temperatures across Canada, along with changes in other climatic variables over the past 50 years, have had both direct and indirect impacts on biodiversity in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine systems.From 1950 to 2007, temperature increased in the spring (by 1.7°C), summer (by 1.3°C), and winter (by 1.8°C) and precipitation increased by 17% in the fall. The ratio of snow to total precipitation decreased by 3.3%. Maximum annual snow depth declined by 13.7 cm. The duration of snow cover declined for the second half of the snow season, February–July, but did not change for the first half of the snow season, August to January.
Ecosystem servicesCanada is well endowed with a natural environment that provides ecosystem services upon which our quality of life depends. In some areas where stressors have impaired ecosystem function, the cost of maintaining ecosystem services is high and deterioration in quantity, quality, and access to ecosystem services is evident.In 2009, the net market value of products extracted from the boreal forest annually was $50.9 billion. Non-marketable ecosystem goods and services were valued at $703.2 billion. Aboriginal people have reported some deterioration in provisioning of blueberries, wild rice, and fish within the ecozone+.

 

3.3 Theme: Habitat, Wildlife, and Ecosystem Processes
Themes and topicsKey findings: nationalKey findings: Boreal Shield ecozone+
Intact landscapes and waterscapesFootnote*Intact landscapes and waterscapes was initially identified as a nationally recurring key finding and information was subsequently compiled and assessed for the Boreal Shield Ecozone+. In the final version of the national report,Reference6 information related to intact landscapes and waterscapes was incorporated into other key findings. This information was maintained as a separate key finding for the Boreal Shield Ecozone+.As of 2006, 64% of the ecozone was composed of intact natural areas including forests and wetlands >100 km2 in size. The southern portion of the ecozone+ is significantly more modified and fragmented than the northern portion.
Agricultural landscapes as habitatThe potential capacity of agricultural landscapes to support wildlife in Canada has declined over the past 20 years, largely due to the intensification of agriculture and the loss of natural and semi-natural land cover.Within the small agricultural portion of the ecozone+, wildlife habitat capacity declined by 71% from 1986 to 2006.
Species of special economic, cultural, or ecological interestMany species of amphibians, fish, birds, and large mammals are of special economic, cultural, or ecological interest to Canadians. Some of these are declining in number and distribution, some are stable, and others are healthy or recovering.The boreal population of woodland caribou was designated as Threatened by the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2003. The distribution of caribou has shrunk substantially from its historic range. The number of imperilled freshwater and diadromous fish species increased from 7 to 14 from 1979 to 2008; but the status of two of these species also improved. The main threats included habitat degradation and loss,   over-exploitation, invasive species, and competition. The range of wolves, cougars, and wolverine declined in the  1800s to 1900s, although observations of wolves, cougars, and fisher have increased since the 1990s. Populations of three out of four focal shorebird species declined. All landbird groups declined except for forest birds.
Primary productivityPrimary productivity has increased on more than 20% of the vegetated land area of Canada over the past 20 years, as well as in some freshwater systems. The magnitude and timing of primary productivity are changing throughout the marine system.Net primary productivity, inferred from the Normalized-Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), increased for 21% of the ecozone+ from 1985 to 2006. This increase was concentrated in the northeastern part of the ecozone+. Decreases occurred in 0.9% of the area, mainly in the western portion; these were attributed to fire.
Natural disturbanceThe dynamics of natural disturbance regimes, such as fire and native insect outbreaks, are changing and this is reshaping the landscape. The direction and degree of change vary.Higher wildfire risk, earlier fire occurrence, and increased insect defoliation in the northeastern portion of the ecozone+  replaced closed-crown boreal forest stands with lichen-spruce woodlands. In the western part of the ecozone+, increased wildfire risk and mountain pine beetle invasion could lead to decreased ecosystem productivity and significant releases of stored carbon. Lower intensity fires were more abundant and occurred earlier in the season in dense, mature conifer forests. The annual area burned by large fires from 1959 to 2007 ranged from 109 km2 to 27,863 km2. Hemlock looper outbreaks moved north to Labrador and jack pine budworm moved east. The severity of spruce budworm outbreaks increased over the past 100 years.
Food websFundamental changes in relationships among species have been observed in marine, freshwater, and terrestrial environments. The loss or reduction of important components of food webs has greatly altered some ecosystems.Food webs in the ecozone+ are largely intact and include the Canada lynx and snowshoe hare cycle and caribou/moose and wolf population dynamics. Wildlife diseases also affect bird and ungulate populations. Aquatic food webs were simplified by acidification and mercury contamination and, despite improvements in water quality, species composition has not always recovered.

 

3.4 Theme: Science/Policy Interface
Themes and topicsKey findings: nationalKey findings: Boreal Shield ecozone+
Biodiversity monitoring, research, information management, and reportingLong-term, standardized, spatially complete, and readily accessible monitoring information, complemented by ecosystem research, provides the most useful findings for policy-relevant assessments of status and trends. The lack of this type of information in many areas has hindered development of this assessment.Long-term data at the ecozone+ level were rarely available for the Boreal Shield. Wetlands, in particular, were poorly monitored. Data for fish, reptiles, and amphibians were lacking relative to data for birds and mammals. Forest birds offer the best available biodiversity information because of existing long-term standardized surveys and monitoring including the Breeding Bird Survey.
Rapid change and thresholdsGrowing understanding of rapid and unexpected changes, interactions, and thresholds, especially in relation to climate change, points to a need for policy that responds and adapts quickly to signals of environmental change in order to avert major and irreversible biodiversity losses.There was no clear evidence of rapid changes or thresholds being crossed. However, in the western part of the ecozone+, increased wildfire risk and potential mountain pine beetle invasion could decrease ecosystem productivity and release stored carbon. These changes are gradual but may be irreversible. Anthropogenic activities tripled the amount of mercury in the environment compared to global background levels, although concentrations decline in the decades following disturbance.

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Newfoundland Boreal Ecozone+

Table 4. Key findings overview for the Newfoundland Boreal Ecozone+.

4.1 Theme: Biomes
Themes and topicsKey findings: nationalKey findings: Newfoundland Boreal ecozone+
ForestsAt a national level, the extent of forests has changed little since 1990; at a regional level, loss of forest extent is significant in some places. The structure of some Canadian forests, including species composition, age classes, and size of intact patches of forest, has changed over longer time frames.Forests cover 44% of the Newfoundland Boreal Ecozone+. Abundant populations of introduced moose are a major driver of forest change. Insect defoliators, fire suppression, and logging also affect forest structure and composition.
GrasslandsNative grasslands have been reduced to a fraction of their original extent. Although at a slower pace, declines continue in some areas. The health of many existing grasslands has also been compromised by a variety of stressors.Not applicable
WetlandsHigh loss of wetlands has occurred in southern Canada; loss and degradation continue due to a wide range of stressors. Some wetlands have been or are being restored.Many productive coastal wetlands occur in areas of intensive settlement. Development of wetlands through drainage, infilling, and channelization has detrimental effects on the quality and quantity of water. Little information is available on the trends in wetlands for the ecozone+.
Lakes and riversTrends over the past 40 years influencing biodiversity in lakes and rivers include seasonal changes in magnitude of stream flows, increases in river and lake temperatures, decreases in lake levels, and habitat loss and fragmentation.Streamflow increased in the spring by 10–40% and decreased in the summer by 20–70%, both influenced by a rise in spring and summer temperatures. Contrary to national trends, however, temperature decreased in January. Hydrologic changes may also be the result of interior forest losses dues to harvest, fire, and insect outbreaks.
CoastalCoastal ecosystems, such as estuaries, salt marshes, and mud flats, are believed to be healthy in less-developed coastal areas, although there are exceptions. In developed areas, extent and quality of coastal ecosystems are declining as a result of habitat modification, erosion, and sea-level rise.Human settlement is concentrated along the 11,550 km long coastline of Newfoundland. Coastal erosion is occurring along the southwest, west, and eastern coasts, accelerated by rising sea levels, increased residential and tourism use, and changing offshore winter ice conditions. The vulnerability of most coastal communities to erosion was "moderately-high" or greater.
MarineObserved changes in marine biodiversity over the past 50 years have been driven by a combination of physical factors and human activities, such as oceanographic and climate variability and overexploitation. While certain marine mammals have recovered from past overharvesting, many commercial fisheries have not.Not applicable
Ice across biomesDeclining extent and thickness of sea ice, warming and thawing of permafrost, accelerating loss of glacier mass, and shortening of lake-ice seasons are detected across Canada's biomes. Impacts, apparent now in some areas and likely to spread, include effects on species and food webs.Freeze-up shifted 0.5 days/yr earlier for Deadman's pond (in the north-central part of the ecozone+) from 1961–1990.

 

4.2 Theme: Human/Ecosystem Interactions
Themes and topicsKey findings: nationalKey findings: Newfoundland Boreal ecozone+
Protected areasBoth the extent and representativeness of the protected areas network have increased in recent years. In many places, the area protected is well above the United Nations 10% target. It is below the target in highly developed areas and the oceans.In 2009, 6.3% (7,098 km2) of the ecozone+ was protected, an increase from 4.5% in 1992. This was comprised of 45 protected areas in IUCN categories I–III. Additionally, five category VI protected areas covered 1.2% of the ecozone+, a category that focuses on sustainable use by established cultural tradition.
StewardshipStewardship activity in Canada is increasing, both in number and types of initiatives and in participation rates. The overall effectiveness of these activities in conserving and improving biodiversity and ecosystem health has not been fully assessed.Partners with the Eastern Habitat Joint Venture Program collaborate to secure and improve wetland habitat for waterfowl. The provincial government and 33 municipalities have conserved and restored 142 km2 of wetland habitat.
Invasive non-native speciesInvasive non-native species are a significant stressor on ecosystem functions, processes, and structure in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine environments. This impact is increasing as numbers of invasive non-native species continue to rise and their distributions continue to expand.Twelve mammals including moose, mink, snowshoe hare, coyote, and squirrels have been introduced to Newfoundland. Moose hinder forest regeneration after disturbance and preferential browsing is changing plant species composition. Red squirrels predate nests of native birds and reduce regeneration due to cone predation. Over 35% of the plants in the ecozone+ are non-native.
ContaminantsConcentrations of legacy contaminants in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine systems have generally declined over the past 10 to 40 years. Concentrations of many emerging contaminants are increasing in wildlife; mercury is increasing in some wildlife in some areas.Sewage is a serious form of pollution in many coastal environments.
Nutrient loading and algal bloomsInputs of nutrients to both freshwater and marine systems, particularly in urban and agriculture-dominated landscapes, have led to algal blooms that may be a nuisance and/or may be harmful. Nutrient inputs have been increasing in some places and decreasing in others.Residual soil nitrogen on agricultural land increased from 20.1 kg N/ha in 1981 to 53.6 kg N/ha in 2006. Nitrogen inputs doubled from 50.7 kg N/ha in 1981 to 102 kg N/ha in 2006. Manure was the greatest source of nitrogen in 1981 at 23.8 kg N/ha compared to 11.3 kg N/ha for fertilizer and 13.6 kg N/ha for legume nitrogen fixation. By 2006, legume fixation was 37.7 kg N/ha, manure addition was 34.5 kg N/ha, and fertilizer was 28.1 kg N/ha. Nitrogen output increased from 30.6 kg N/ha in 1981 to 48.4 kg N/ha in 2006.
Acid depositionThresholds related to ecological impact of acid deposition, including acid rain, are exceeded in some areas, acidifying emissions are increasing in some areas, and biological recovery has not kept pace with emission reductions in other areas.Spatial variation characterizes the deposition of sulphates and nitrates across the ecozone+. From 1983 to 2000, depositions were greatest on the southwest corner of the island and diminished to the north and east. Deposition of sulphate declined since 1990, but nitrate increased. Declining trends of sulphate may be related to emission abatement measures, but could also result from changes in weather patterns.
Climate changeRising temperatures across Canada, along with changes in other climatic variables over the past 50 years, have had both direct and indirect impacts on biodiversity in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine systems.From 1950 to 2007, temperatures increased in the summer (by 1.7 °C) and fall (by 1.0 °C); there were no changes to the growing season. Spring, fall, and winter precipitation increased by 0.2%. Maximum annual snow depth increased (32.5 cm), however, the ratio of total precipitation to snow and the duration of snow cover did not change.
Ecosystem servicesCanada is well endowed with a natural environment that provides ecosystem services upon which our quality of life depends. In some areas where stressors have impaired ecosystem function, the cost of maintaining ecosystem services is high and deterioration in quantity, quality, and access to ecosystem services is evident.Ecosystem services have not been systematically estimated in the ecozone+. Hunting revenues and other tourist activities related to moose contribute more than              $100 million annually to the Newfoundland economy.

 

4.3 Theme: Habitat, Wildlife, and Ecosystem Processes
Themes and topicsKey findings: nationalKey findings: Newfoundland Boreal ecozone+
Intact landscapes and waterscapesFootnote*Intact landscapes and waterscapes was initially identified as a nationally recurring key finding and information was subsequently compiled and assessed for the Newfoundland Boreal Ecozone+. In the final version of the national report,Footnote6 information related to intact landscapes and waterscapes was incorporated into other key findings. This information was maintained as a separate key finding for the Newfoundland Boreal Ecozone+.In 2006, 57% of the ecozone+ was composed of intact natural areas, contiguous blocks of forest, bog, water, tundra, and rock outcrops of more than 10 km2.
Agricultural landscapes as habitatThe potential capacity of agricultural landscapes to support wildlife in Canada has declined over the past 20 years, largely due to the intensification of agriculture and the loss of natural and semi-natural land cover.Not applicable
Species of special economic, cultural or ecological interestMany species of amphibians, fish, birds, and large mammals are of special economic, cultural, or ecological interest to Canadians. Some of these are declining in number and distribution, some are stable, and others are healthy or recovering.Caribou populations declined from a peak of 95,000 in 1997 to 32,000 in 2008. Newfoundland marten were downlisted from Endangered to Threatened in 2007. Newfoundland has the largest tract of heath in North America including rare and endemic species such as Long's braya and Fernald's braya.
Primary productivityPrimary productivity has increased on more than 20% of the vegetated land area of Canada over the past 20 years, as well as in some freshwater systems. The magnitude and timing of primary productivity are changing throughout the marine system.Net primary productivity, as measured by the NDVI, increased on nearly 41% of the land in the ecozone+ from 1985 to 2006. This is the largest proportion of land with a positive trend among Canadian ecozones+. A warming climate, forest harvest, or moose, which impede forest regeneration, could be responsible for observed trends.
Natural disturbanceThe dynamics of natural disturbance regimes, such as fire and native insect outbreaks, are changing and this is reshaping the landscape. The direction and degree of change vary.Fire is not a significant natural disturbance in this ecozone+. Balsam fir sawfly, eastern spruce budworm, and hemlock looper were the three main insect defoliators. Major outbreaks were primarily restricted to west and central regions. Balsam fir sawfly outbreaks have increased in duration, severity, and extent.
Food websFundamental changes in relationships among species have been observed in marine, freshwater, and terrestrial environments. The loss or reduction of important components of food webs has greatly altered some ecosystems.Introductions of several non-native species into the ecozone+ have affected native species' population cycles. The introduction of coyotes may have affected caribou, Arctic hare, and marten populations. Seals have increased residence times in several rivers and estuaries and are now present during the salmon smolt run.

 

4.4 Theme: Science/Policy Interface
Themes and topicsKey findings: nationalKey findings: Newfoundland Boreal ecozone+
Biodiversity monitoring, research, information management and reportingLong-term, standardized, spatially complete, and readily accessible monitoring information, complemented by ecosystem research, provides the most useful findings for policy-relevant assessments of status and trends. The lack of this type of information in many areas has hindered development of this assessment.Very little quantitative information was available for this ecozone+
Rapid change and thresholdsGrowing understanding of rapid and unexpected changes, interactions, and thresholds, especially in relation to climate change, points to a need for policy that responds and adapts quickly to signals of environmental change in order to avert major and irreversible biodiversity losses.  The shift in tree species composition and lack of forest regeneration for decades following disturbance suggests that moose and insect defoliators have shifted ecosystems in Newfoundland Boreal Ecozone+ to a new state. Given the limited data available, it is unknown if other thresholds have been reached.

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Footnotes

MB *

This key finding is not numbered because it does not correspond to a key finding in the national reportFootnote6

Return to Footnote *

Footnote 6

Federal, Provincial and Territorial Governments of Canada. 2010. Canadian biodiversity: ecosystem status and trends 2010. Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers. Ottawa, ON. vi + 142 p.

Return to footnote 6