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Maritime Barrens Ecoregion


The Maritime Barrens Ecoregion extends from the east coast of Newfoundland to the the west coast through the south central portion of the island. This ecoregion has the coldest summers with frequent fog and strong winds. Winters are relatively mild with intermittent snow cover particularly near the coastline. Annual precipitation exceeds 1250 mm.

The landscape pattern consists of usually stunted, almost pure stands of Balsam Fir, broken by extensive open heathland. Good forest growth is localized on long slopes of a few protected valleys. The development of the extensive heath landscape was precipitated by indiscriminate burning by European settlers. Railways in the nineteenth century also had a significant impact on fire frequency in the eastern part of the region. The heaths are dominated by Kalmia angustifolia on protected slopes where snow accumulates and by cushions of Empetrum nigrum or Empetrum easmesii on windswept ridges and headlands.

Attemps to afforest these heaths with Picea sitchensis have been unsuccessful, but Eastern larch and Scots Pine may have potential for fuelwood stands (Hall 1986). However, site selection is critical because the historical removal of forest has deflected the natural treeline to low elevations. Wind, lack of protective snow cover and soil frost disturbance are important factors limiting plantation establishment in this ecoregion.

A. Northeastern Barrens Subregion

This subregion has lower fog frequency and somewhat warmer summers compared to subregions B and C. Arctic-alpine species are absent from the heath vegetation and Yellow Birch is absent from the forest. The landscape is extensively forested with local heath vegetation particularly along the coast.

The tills in the area are generally a shallow rolling ground moraine with sandy loam to loam texture. The Hylocomium-Balsam Fir type occupies mid-slopes and it is usually associated with gleyed podzols or gleysols.

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B. Southeastern Barrens Subregion

In this subregion the landscape is dominated by heathlands and the forest only occurs in small acreages which escaped fire. The dominant heath shrub on uplands is Empetrum nigrum with Kalmia angustifolia forming a dense cover only in protected valleys.

The topography is generally undulating with shallow heavily compacted till and numerous large erratics. The Clintonia-Balsam Fir type is most common where the forest is still present. Good forest growth only occurs in a few large protected valleys where the Dryopteris-Balsam Fir type dominates the slopes. Good specimens of Yellow Birch are also found in these stands.

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C. South Coast Barrens Subregion

This subregion includes the higher elevations along the south coast and a few small outliers on the isthmus of Avalon and the Hawke Hills that are up to 300m in elevation. Snow cover is shallow and arctic-alpine plants occur locally. Yellow Birch is present in valleys.

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D. Central Barrens Subregion

This area occurs south of the Central Newfoundland Ecoregion and north of the South Coast Barrens Subregion. Residual forests that have not been destroyed by fire have moderate forest capability. The dwarf shrub heaths are robust and Rhododendron canadense is a conspicuous component suggesting deep snow cover. Arctic-alpine species are poorly represented and Yellow Birch is absent from the forest.

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