What once may have been a towering mountain chain is today a massive rolling plain of ancient bedrock. During the late Precambrian era, violent spasms in the Earth’s crust warped, folded and faulted the Shield. The foundation of much of the ecozone is now metamorphic gneiss, a highly banded rock formed by intense pressure and heat. Many of the minerals that contribute to the Boreal Shield’s economy may have formed during these geologically turbulent times.
During the last ice age, which ended 10 000 years ago, the advance of glaciers is repeatedly plucked and scoured the Shield, carving striations in the bedrock and carrying large boulders many kilometers. In retreat, glaciers blanketed much of the landscape with gravel, sand and other glacial deposits. The many poorly drained depressions left behind, as well as natural faults in the bedrock, now form the millions of lakes, pondes and wetlands that give this ecozone its distinctive character
Throughout the Boreal Shield, these forests are mixed with innumerable bogs, marshes and other wetlands. Covering nearly 20% of the ecozone, these wetlands are among its most diverse and biologically productive ecosystems. Some larger wetlands in southern regions have been converted into commercial berry farms, which produce large volumes of cranberries and blueberries for markets around the world.
Where the scouring effects of glaciation were intense, bare rock outcrops predominate, dotted by colourful arrays of lichen and ground-hugging shrubs.
Forest fires add to the distinctive mosaic of the Boreal Shield by leaving a patchwork quilt of plant life varying in species composition and age. Although fire often destroys large tracts of forest and occasionally threatens human activities or property, it also renews the landscape by triggering new growth, purging old forests of insect pests and disease, and increasing the variety of habitats available to wildlife.
Among the characteristic mammals of this ecozone are Woodland Caribou, White-tailed Deer, Moose, Black Bear, Wolf, Lynx, Snowshoe Hare, Fisher, Marten and Striped Skunk. The ecozone’s many wetlands, ponds, rivers and lakes provide important habitats for Beaver, Muskrat and Mink.
In the Atlantic marine environment, typical mammals include Grey, Harp and Hooded seals, and Killer, Atlantic Pilot, Sperm, Fin and Blue whales. The endangered Northern Right and Bowhead whales and threatened Humpback Whale are also found in this region.
The biologically-rich marine areas off Quebec’s north shore as well as the continental shelf of Newfoundland and Labrador are vital to Canada’s commercial fisheries. The rocky shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Newfoundland coast provide exceptional nesting habitat for many seabirds. Lake Trout, Lake Whitefish, Burbot and Northern Pike are among the most common fish species thriving in the ecozone’s many freshwater lakes and rivers.
Much of the freshwater resources of the Boreal Shield are relatively untouched by human activity. Others have been widely exploited. Flow alteration and mercury contamination from hydro dams and associated river diversions, acidification from mine tailings and smelter emissions, and sedimentation and stream disruptions from extensive logging activities are the consequences of industrial development.
Many Shield lakes and soils are extremely sensitive to changes in pH. Acid rain from local sources and from the long-range transport of airborne pollutants has already taken an ominous toll. It may be weakening the general vigour and growth rate of trees, as well as of aquatic species, in sensitive areas.
Mining, forestry, hydro generation and fisheries are all important contributors to the Canadian economy. With the help of environmentally responsible regulations and policies, they will be able to continue well into the future. Beyond its economic opportunities, the Boreal Shield continues to provide more intangible but priceless gifts -- pure air and water, food and habitat for wildlife, and recreational, aesthetic and spiritual benefits.
Relationships between dissolved organic carbon concentrations, weather, and acidification in small Boreal Shield lakes (1).(Report)
May 01, 2008; Abstract: We used multiple linear regression analyses to explore empirical relationships between dissolved organic carbon (DOC)...
Metal deposition chronologies in boreal shield lakes: Distinguishing anthropogenic signals from diagenetic effects
Jun 01, 2003; ABSTRACT Accurate metal deposition records in lake sediments are necessary to assess their present human health and ecological...
Zooplankton community response to experimental acidification in boreal shield lakes with different ecological histories.
Jun 01, 2007; Abstract: Community responses to acidification and recovery of boreal lakes are poorly understood, particularly after several...
The influence of riparian vegetation on leaf litter inputs to Boreal Shield streams: implications for partial-harvest logging in riparian reserves.(Report)
May 01, 2009; Introduction Riparian zones are defined as three-dimensional areas that directly link aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems (Gregory...