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Northern Arctic  
Taiga Plains  
Map of the Southern Arctic ecozone  

Location | Climate | Geology and geography | Flora and fauna | Humans | Images

The Southern Arctic extends across the northern edge of much of the continental Northwest Territories and Quebec, bordered by the tree line to the south and the Northern Arctic ecosystem to the north.

This far north, the summers are short and cool, while winters are long, cold, and dark. Summers average 5șC, while winters vary between an average of -28șC near the Mackenzie Delta to -18șC in northern Quebec.

Precipitation in the west is low, approximately 250mm per year, and only rises to 500mm at the eastern end of the ecozone. Permafrost is found throughout the region, sometimes only a few centimetres below the surface.

Geology and Geography
Photo: Susan Aiken, Canadian Museum of NatureThe look of the Southern Arctic is largely the result of glaciers. As the glaciers expanded and moved south, they carried rocks and earth with them. Exposed bedrock, which may have been exposed by the scraping of the glaciers, still bears scratch marks from rocks dragged across them by the glaciers' advance. Rocks up to the size of houses were torn from the bedrock and carried by the glaciers, sometimes a few metres and sometimes a few thousand kilometres. When they ended up far from home, these rocks are appropriately known as "glacial erratics".

When the glaciers retreated from this area about 8 500 years ago, soil and rocks were deposited in huge amounts, resulting in all types of characteristic landscape features. The bedrock here is mostly Precambrian granite, which is exposed throughout the area.

Flora and Fauna
The southern edge of the Southern Arctic is the tree line, a transition zone north of which no full-sized trees are found. Anything north of the tree line is defined as the arctic. The low temperatures, low precipitation, and high winds in most of the ecozone encourages low plants. Stunted forms of tree species such as dwarf birch, alder, arctic willow, white spruce, black spruce, tamarack, least willow, net-veined willow and blue-green willow grow here.

Other plant species that grow in the Southern Arctic include the heath, lichen, northern Labrador tea, Dryas, sedge species, sphagnum moss, cottongrass, ericaceous shrubs, Vaccinium, fragrant shield fern, shrub birch, crowberry, bearberry, moss campion, blueberry, mountain cranberry, cloudberry, and alpine club moss.

North of the tree line, life becomes difficult for animals as well as plants. Most impressive of the animals here is the caribou and their massive migrations. Many birds also migrate, though they fly over the ecozone as much as land in it.

Larger carnivores in the Southern Arctic include the grizzly bear, black bear and polar bear as well as wolves. The most common large herbivores are barren-ground caribou, woodland caribou, moose, and muskox. Smaller carnivores, such as the red fox, arctic fox, lynx, coyote, weasels, wolverine and ermine prey on smaller herbivores, which include the arctic ground squirrel, brown lemming, showshoe hare, arctic hare masked shrew, tundra redbacked vole , and beaver. Aquatic mammals include walruses, various seals, belugas, narwhals, and white whales.

Many birds migrate here in the spring to breed, but spend the long cold winters further south. Many others pass over the Southern Arctic during their migrations to breed still further north. Four characteristic birds of prey include the snowy owl, gyrfalcon, osprey, and rough-legged hawk. Waterfowl that can be found here include Canada goose, yellow-billed loon, arctic loon, red-throated loon, tundra swan, whistling swan, snow goose, oldsquaw duck and sea ducks. Some common shorebirds and seabirds in the Southern Arctic are the semi-palmated plover, northern phalarope, lapland longspur, parasitic jaeger, and semi-palmated plover. Songbirds also live here, including the snow bunting, raven, American tree sparrow, and hoary redpoll. Willow ptarmigan, rock ptarmigan and spruce grouse are a few of the ground-dwelling birds.

Reptiles and Amphibians
This ecozone is too harsh for either reptiles or amphibians to live in.

Three species of molluscs that live in the Southern Arctic are the muskeg stagnicola, arctic-alpine fingernail clam, and globular pea clam.

Extremely few people (only about 10 000) live here, and the majority of the population is Inuit. Most people live through subsistence activities, such as hunting, trapping and fishing, though gas and oil exploration also provide a living for some, as does tourism.

Wetlands, Tuk, Yukon


Northern ArcticTaiga Plains

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