Fort McMurray wildfire

Willow, Birch, and Jack Pine… Oh My!: How the Boreal Forest Changes Over Time

Has the boreal forest always been a boreal forest? How do vegetation communities change with age? One thing for certain is that northern boreal forests are young. Compared to the redwood forests of California for example, Alberta’s boreal forest is a ‘baby’. That being said, it’s no baby in size. The boreal forest region in Alberta covers over 55% of the province and is a ‘hot spot’ for ecological diversity.

The forested parts of Alberta figured here are dominated by the boreal forest. The boreal region is renowned for its ecological diversity and is home to hundreds of plants and animals (created by Christina Poletto).

Why is Alberta’s boreal forest so young and how has it changed? Some 12,000 years ago, ice sheets that covered Alberta began to melt and the landscape opened. The Laurentide Ice Sheet retreated to the northeast so that the northwest corner of Alberta was the first region to become free of ice. The newly opened landscape was a productive steppe-tundra environment that lasted for a short period. Species like birch and alder were dominant while smaller shrubs of grasses and willow covered the remaining landscape. (more…)