Canada's Ecozones

An ecozone is an area where organisms and their physical environment form a system.

Most of the features which are used to determine an ecozone are normally thought of as natural—landforms, soils, water features, vegetation and climate. However, where human activities are extensive and are key to sustaining the character of the area, they must also be considered a factor.

“The Terrestrial Ecozones of Canada” is a nationwide ecological framework developed by Environment Canada so that people in different areas, jurisdictions and disciplines share a common standardized geographical reference.

This framework consists of 15 ecozones. Within these are 194 ecoregions.

Select an ecozone for more information:

Canada's Ecozones


Arctic Cordillera

This ecozone incorporates vast polar ice fields and has some of the most spectacular alpine glacier scenery in the world.

Massive ice caps and glaciers mask many of the rugged mountains. Some of Canada's highest but least-known peaks are found here, towering over U-shaped valleys and deep fiords that extend many kilometres inland.

This Arctic Cordillera occupies the northeastern fringe of the Northwest Territories and Labrador. These represent the only major mountainous ranges of Canada outside the western Cordillera.

Back to top

 

Atlantic Maritime

The Atlantic Maritime ecozone covers all of the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

Mixed-wood Acadian forests, sand dunes stretched along seaboards, and coastal islands are some of the unique ecosystems of the Atlantic Maritime ecozone.

Back to top

 

Boreal Cordillera

This ecozone is located in the midsection of the Cordilleran system. It covers sections of northern British Columbia and southern Yukon.

Consisting of extensive mountains and valleys separated by wide lowlands, this ecozone spans 444,000 square kilometres.

The Boreal Cordillera ecozone contains most of Yukon's population. Whitehorse is the largest centre with a population of 23,000, while the entire ecozone is home to just 31,000 people (1991). Much of the valuable land for residential, agricultural and wildlife habitat is located in the valleys.

First Nations have a significant voice in managing the environment of Yukon portion of this ecozone through Yukon Umbrella Final Agreement signed into law in February 1995.

Back to top

 

Boreal Plains

The Boreal Plains ecozone is part of the flat Interior Plains of Canada - a northern extension of the Great Plains of North America.

The subdued relief consists of low-lying valleys and plains stretching across the mid portions of Manitoba and Saskatchewan and continuing through almost two-thirds of Alberta.

It covers 650,000 square kilometres (an area larger than Yukon).

The majority of the surface waters are part of three watersheds: those of the Saskatchewan River, the Beaver River, and Peace, Athabasca and Slave Rivers.

Timber covers 84% of the Boreal Plains and forestry is the primary industry. Less than 20% of the land area is devoted to agriculture.

Back to top

 

Boreal Shield

Scientists call the area where the Canadian Shield and the boreal forest overlap the Boreal Shield. This area is the largest of Canada's 15 terrestrial ecozone.

Stretching 3,800 kilometres from Newfoundland to Alberta, the Boreal Shield includes parts of six provinces, covers more than 1.8 million square kilometres and encompasses almost 20% of Canada's land mass and 10% of its fresh water.

Almost two thirds of the country lies on Shield rock.

Canada's largest ecosystem, the boreal forest, forms a continuous belt from the east coast to the Rockies. It is a broad, U-shaped zone that extends from northern Saskatchewan east to Newfoundland, passing north of Lake Winnipeg, the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.

Back to top

 

Hudson Plains

Canada has approximately 25% of the world's wetlands. The Hudson Plain alone embraces the bulk of this figure. The largest extensive area of wetlands in the world are associated with this ecozone. Some say it is the largest wetland on the planet.

The Hudson Plains ecozone is centred in northern Ontario and extends into northeastern Manitoba and western Quebec. Only the Taiga Cordillera and the Arctic Cordillera ecozones have fewer people.

Back to map

 

Mixed-Wood Plains

This ecozone covers the lower Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River valley. Its geographic location, waterways and combination of gentle topography, fertile soils, warm growing season and abundant rainfall have made it the most intensely used and populated area in Canada.

Interlaced with national and international transportation routes, the Mixed Wood Plains have become the industrial and commercial heartland of Canada.

Long before European settlement, the favoured Mixed Wood Plains were inhabited by Native communities, including the Mohawk, Algonquian, Iroquoian, and Cree.

Back to top

 

Montane Cordillera

The Montane Cordillera ecozone is the most diverse of Canada's 15 terrestrial ecozones, exhibiting some of the driest, wettest, coldest and hottest conditions anywhere in the country. The ecosystems are variable, ranging from alpine tundra and dense conifer forests to dry sagebrush and grasslands. Much of the region is rugged and mountainous. There are some large deep lakes and major river systems, including the Fraser River and the Columbia River headwaters.

The Montane Cordillera encompasses two of the four significant agricultural areas of the province; the Creston Valley and the Okanagan Valley. In the latter, orchards, vineyards and cash crops take advantage of favourable soil conditions. Cattle ranching is dominant throughout much of the other interior plateau and valley lands.

Back to top

 

Northern Arctic

The ecozone covers 473,000 square kilometres of Canada, stretching from north-central British Columbia south to the United States border. It encompasses the Alberta Foothills as well as the interior mountain ranges and valleys of BC, including the Okanagan and East Kootenay valleys.

Covering 1.5 million square kilometres, or about one seventh of Canada, the Northern Arctic ecozone extends over most of the non-mountainous areas of the Arctic islands and parts of northeastern Keewatin, western Baffin Island, and northern Quebec. It is among the largest Arctic ecosystems in the world.

Snow may fall any month of the year and usually remains on the ground from September to June. Extremely low temperatures and an average precipitation of about 200 mm per year characterize the climate.

It incorporates the coldest and driest landscapes in Canada.

Back to top

 

Pacific Maritime

The Pacific Maritime ecozone is the home of Canada's tallest trees, most rainfall, and longest and deepest fiords.

Its unique maritime climate, striking mountains and the ever-changing Pacific Ocean give this ecozone its distinctive character.

Few other areas on earth have such a variety in so short a distance - from undersea kelp forests to alpine tundra, from the lush, flat plains of the Fraser Delta to the massive glaciers punctuating the northern British Columbia coast.

The wettest climates in Canada occur in this ecozone on the coast, especially near the mountains on the windward slopes of Vancouver Island, the Queen Charlotte Islands and the mainland Coast Mountains.

This ecozone covers the mainland Pacific coast and offshore islands of British Columbia.

Back to top

 

Prairies

The Prairies ecozone arcs from the western edge of Alberta to the eastern edge of Manitoba. It is characterized by relatively little topographic relief with its grasslands and limited forests.

The Prairies ecozone is often characterized as flat, rural, wheat and oil-producing, or cold. It is the most human-altered region in Canada. Farmland dominates the ecozone and covers nearly 94% of the land base. Termed the 'Breadbasket of Canada', the Prairies Ecozone contains the majority of the country's productive agricultural cropland, rangeland, and pasture.

This ecozone, spans an area of 520,000 square kilometres and is larger than Yukon.

Loss of habitat is the most critical threat to the flora and fauna. Little of the natural vegetation is left, leaving little habitat for animals unique to the grasslands.

Wetlands, which provide critical habitat for 50% of North America's waterfowl, have been altered by agricultural practices and only half the presettlement wetland area remains.

Today, the Prairies Ecozone is home to high numbers of threatened and endangered wildlife species and its native ecosystems are among the most endangered natural habitats in Canada.

Back to top

 

Southern Arctic

For almost a million square kilometres, the Southern Arctic is the same: sprawling shrublands, wet sedge meadows and cold, clear lakes.

The Northwest Territories portion of the Southern Arctic ecozone is home to the world's biggest concentration of free-roaming large mammals. These are the Barren-ground Caribou, also called "Buffalo of the Tundra."

Of the three arctic ecozones, this one has the most extensive vegetative cover and highest diversity of species.

This ecozone is split by Hudson Bay into east and west portions with over 80% of the land area in the western portion. It covers northern mainland Canada from the Richardson Mountains in Yukon to Ungava Bay in northern Quebec.

Back to map

 

Taiga Cordillera

This ecozone is dominated by alpine and arctic shrubs and flowers, plus vast wetlands and spruce-lined valleys that support many kinds of wildlife. This land hosts some of Canada's largest waterfalls, deepest canyons and wildest rivers.

To the northwest are expansive wetlands and rolling hills that stretch to the Beaufort coast. Treeless arctic tundra dominates its northern reaches and gives way to a mix of alpine tundra and lowland forests farther south. "Cordillera" refers to the series of mountain ranges and valleys that form this ecozone's rugged interior.

This ecozone is located along the northernmost extent of the Rocky Mountain system and covers most of the northern half of Yukon and southwest corner of the Northwest Territories.

Back to top

 

Taiga Plains

The Taiga Plains ecozone is an area of low-lying plains centred on Canada's largest river, the Mackenzie, and its many tributaries.

With an area of about 550,000 square kilometres, it is Canada's sixth largest ecozone.

The northern reaches of the ecozone feature a rich diversity of plants, birds and mammals from both the Subarctic and the Arctic. The southern portion is home to the world's largest Wood Bison herd, contains the only known nesting site of the endangered Whooping Crane and encompasses the sprawling Peace-Athabasca Delta - a wetland habitat of global significance.

The Taiga Plains are located mainly in the southwesterly corner of the Northwest Territories, Northeastern British Columbia and Northern Alberta.

Back to map

 

Taiga Shield

This ecozone lies on either side of Hudson Bay, hence there is an east and west zone. In northern Canada, much of the Boreal coniferous forest (Taiga forest) rests on the Canadian Shield, the bedrock heart of the continent. With an area of over 1.3 million square kilometres, the Taiga Shield is one of Canada's largest ecozones.

The Taiga Shield is an ecological crossroads where climates, soils, plants, birds and mammals from the Boreal and the Arctic meet.

Western Taiga Shield Ecozone

The western segment occupies portions of northern Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Northwest Territories. The world's oldest rocks are found on the Taiga Shield north of Great Slave Lake.

Eastern Taiga Shield Ecozone

The eastern segment occupies the central part of Quebec and Labrador.

Back to top

Newsletter Signup
YouTube Twitter Facebook
Share Send