Distinct Ecosystems in Cape Breton Highlands

This week, we are in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, on the northern tip of Nova Scotia.  We met with Park staff early this morning to discuss possible locations for our three Standardized Sampling sites.  Coincidentally, the highlands have three distinct and dominant ecosystems throughout the Park, so we selected one site location within each. The first site was located near Paquette Lake, on the eastern side.  It is composed of a unique vegetation combination that does not occur in any other Canadian location.  This ecosystem type has been granted the title “Nova Scotia special”, discriminating it from other areas with the dominating presence of low brambles of the blueberry family.  These shrubs thickly covered the ground, making site setup and sweeps a small inconvenience.

A scenic view of the first site selected for Standardized Sampling, dominated by vegetation of the blueberry family, in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, NS.
A scenic view of the first site selected for Standardized Sampling, dominated by vegetation of the blueberry family, in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, NS.

The second site we selected was off of Lone Shieling Trail; Acadian old growth forest dominated by towering 350 year-old sugar maples and beech trees, and dense green ferns as the distinguishing vegetation types.  Our site required walking a short distance around the trail loop, leading us along a bridge with a fast flowing brook below, carving its way through rocky terrain. The site itself surrounded a winding shallow depression characteristic of a previously flowing stream that now hosts large decaying logs.  We found this site very enjoyable for sampling insects, the thick ferns that wholly covered the ground had many large flies and beetles walking among the leaves and swarming gnats overhead.

Our third site neared Benjies Lake Trail on the western side of the park; a path surrounded with thick plantations of Black Spruce and Douglas Fir trees characteristic of Boreal forest ecosystems. It had the highest elevation of all, at a height of 425 metres. Luckily, only the bus had to climb to this elevation; the remainder of the distance was level and easily accessed by foot.  At the perimeter of the site, there was a well-defined pathway of dark mud with many ungulate hoof imprints. It was likely a game trail with heavy traffic from the local moose living in the forest.

The BIObus stopped at one of the beautiful lookouts off the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, NS.
The BIObus stopped at one of the beautiful lookouts off the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, NS.

The BIObus travelled along the infamous Cabot Trail between these site locations. Contrary to the name, the Cabot Trail is a highway that carves its way over and around the mountainous terrain of Cape Breton. The trail is riddled with many lookouts and interpretive signs to enhance the driving experience and to take advantage of the stunning views along the way. The three sites we selected, and the opportunity to travel along the Cabot Trail exposed us to a small sample of the magnificent scenic views that Cape Breton offers, and the park will surely be an excellent grand finale to our BIObus travels.

– Katelyn

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