Biologist and Senior Manager, Land and Natural Resources, Quebec Urban Lands and Gatineau Park
This blog isn’t about the pandemic or interprovincial travel. Essential travel — in Gatineau Park — is about movement undertaken day and night by the Park’s natural residents: plants and animals.
How do they travel and why is it so important? This blog will take a look at the world of biodiversity, ecology and conservation, and how it is more connected to human activity than you may realize.
Gatineau Park is…
- more than 50 species of mammals
- close to 230 species of birds
- several species of reptiles and amphibians, and thousands of invertebrates
- more than 1,000 species of plants and about 50 types of trees.
All these species must continually move throughout the territory in search of food, more fertile ground or a richer environment; to find a mate or a place to lay eggs; to reproduce; or to escape predators.
Corridors for wildlife…
Did you know that a wolf needs at least 200 square kilometres of territory, and a bear needs at least 100 km2?
Just as many other species do, wolves and bears depend on what are called ecological corridors.
Ecological corridors are parts of a territory that connect different natural environments. They can be natural watercourses such as rivers and creeks, forested spaces, hedges that function as windbreaks, forests and fields. These passages allow animals to travel from one environment to another, and especially to reproduce with a mate that has a different genetic makeup. This movement is therefore essential in ensuring genetic diversity within a species, and in maintaining diversity in terms of ecosystems. The richer and more diversified an ecosystem is, the stronger and more resilient it is.
…and for plants!
Ecological corridors are also used by plants. That’s right, plants!
In order to colonize new portions of land and find better growing conditions, plants in Gatineau Park also travel. How? With the help of allies. Animals and insects transport impressive quantities of pollen, seeds and nuts when they eat and when they move. Just think about squirrels and the amount of seeds and pine cones they have stored all over the forest — or a bear with burrs in its fur, or that travels several kilometres and, when it defecates, leaves behind seeds from the fruit it has eaten.
Barriers that aren’t always visible
Ecological corridors are very important, but also fragile. Several things, like a road, a fence or a railway track, can create a physical barrier for animals, and prevent them from being able to travel between different natural environments.
There are also psychological barriers that can create the same result and isolate environments. One of these barriers is human activity. Some animals, such as the lynx, for example, are especially sensitive to noise and odours linked to the presence of humans in their territory. For some animals, like centipedes, turtles or mice, crossing a trail can be just like trying to cross a multi-lane highway!
Unofficial trails in Gatineau Park contribute to habitat fragmentation when they are regularly used. The repeated presence of people using these trails can also be a detriment to movement for more timid species like fishers and weasels. These animals can sense the presence of humans as a threat, even long after a person has passed by on a trail, and they will not dare approach it. You can help protect these species by using only official trails.
The NCC is actively working to limit barriers and conserve connectivity between environments, through partnerships and projects such as the Responsible Trail Management project.
The protection of ecological corridors is also one of the conservation priorities of the Gatineau Park Master Plan.