Natural History

Natural history is the observation and description of the life around us and the explanation of how it came to be.

View also submenu items including Forest Vegetation, Conservation, NSDNR Old Forest Policy, and Conservation Links, Birds, Amphibians, Reps & Mammals, Sounds & Sights

The Acadian Forest, the story so far
Sounds and views of Acadian forest, and of recent clearcuts by Mark Brennan. Also see (listen to) Mark’s Wild Earth Voices which include four albums in forest wilderness settings in Nova Scotia.

A field guide to forest biodiversity stewardship
Peter Neily and Glen J. Parsons. NSDNR 2017. The 126 page guidebook contains a lot of useful information primarily at “the forest stand level”, encourages managers to retain legacy trees, patches of old growth etc. and for some specific situations or wildlife such as as nesting colonies of great blue heron offers very specific instructions on how to protect them. The Eco Notes in each section provide interesting, relevant and practical information about forest biodiversity that will be welcomed all people who have an active interest in our forests regardless of whether they actually manage any forest.

Natural History of forested lands in Kings Co., Nova Scotia
Post Jan 18, 2018 with a link to the Chapter on Forested Lands in the Natural History of Kings County. This 31 page chapter provides an overview of the natural history of the forests of Kings Co; it applies to most of NS.

Natural History of Nova Scotia: H6 INTRODUCTION TO FORESTS
A good overview.

Old Growth Forests
A Fact Sheet on the State of Old Growth Forests in Nova Scotia by Nova Scotia Nature Trust, Spring 2000

“Old Growth” Forests Defined by Key Ecological Characteristics
by Joe Rankin. 2016 in Forest for Maine’s Future. Brief description/discussion.

Becoming a naturalist
On what a naturalist does and how one learns natural history with special reference to Nova Scotia. David P. in The Halifax Field Naturalist No 160 (Fall, 2015)

Nova Scotia Bird News by Date
A page on the American Birding Association website recording posts to a listserv, with often 10 or more posts daily. It’s not restricted to birds and includes many natural history observations as they unfold seasonally in Nova Scotia. Every now and then, there are informative discussions of current issues relating to natural history and conservation.

MTRI’s Forest Program
MTRI is the Mersey Tibeatic Research Institute whose mandate is “to promote sustainable use of natural resources and biodiversity conservation in the Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve and beyond through research, education, and the operation of a field station”. This set of web pages describes their work and volunteer programs and provides links to relevant resources. View also Old Forest Conservation Science Conference

Wildland Writers: NaturallyNS
Links to articles by the Wildland Writers published in the Chronicle Herald under the column Naturally Nova Scotia, many of which are about life in Nova Scotia forests.

ns wild flora societyLinks: Conservation/Species at Risk
Five pages of links on the website of the NS Wild Flora Society under the headings Nova Scotia, Federal/Other Atlantic Provinces/U.S., International, Invasive Species, Naturalization/Native Plant Gardening.

Halifax Field Naturalist Archived Newsletters
The Halifax Field Naturalist has been published 4x/year since 1975. Past issues provide for some good browsing and you can search the archives, e.g. for spruce budworm, longhorn beetle. Included are descriptions of invited talks, field trips that cover the province and topical reports of the times.

Celebrating Yellow Birch
Post on this website. “Yellow birch is chuncky, slow growing, a tree of damp, shady ravines, of swamps and rocky hillsides. It grows slow and dies old. For company it prefers other shade lovers like sugar maple, hemlock. Red spruce and beech – that club of elites we call the Acadian forest. Its bark is so rough and gnarly, especially on older trees, people hardly know it’s a birch.” – Gary Saunders in My Life with Trees, Gaspereau Press, 2015

Nova Scotia Environmental Assessments
The published EAs are an invaluable source of information on the occurrence of species and habitats in different parts of the province. The site provides access to EAs going back to the year 2000.

Dr. Elena Ponomarenko shows participants in the MTRI Old Forest Conference (Oct 19-21, 2016) how to read the forest floor to uncover past disturbances and forest types

Dr. Elena Ponomarenko shows participants in the MTRI Old Forest Conference (Oct 19-21, 2016) how to read the forest floor to uncover past disturbances and forest types

Pit and Mound Topography

Patterns of pedoturbation by tree uprooting in forest soils
Bobrovsky M.V., Loyko S.V. Russian Journal of Ecosystem Ecology Vol. 1 (1). 2016. A descriptive article with photos. It references classic research by E.V. Ponomarenko who has been working in Nova Scotia recently.

Woodlands shaped by past Hurricanes
By David Dwyer, Forester NSDNR. 1979
“Many of our forest stands in Nova Scotia are a result of past hurricanes. Mounds on the forest floor -the result of uprooted trees – indicate this. The age of trees growing on these mounds give a good indication of when the storm occurred. These stand ages compare well with the written records of past storms…”

Acadian Forest Love Affair
by David P (Jan 26, 2018). The physical intimacy of yellow birch and hemlock often observed on mounds in old forests is more than a coincidence.

Salvaging has minimal impacts on vegetation regeneration 10 years after severe windthrow
by AR taylor et al, Forest Ecology and Management Volume 406, 15 December 2017, Pages 19-27. “The study area was located approximately 50 km east of Halifax”. Includes discussion of pit and mound topography, disturbance regimes etc.

Forest structure more important than topography in determining windthrow during Hurricane Juan in Canada’s Acadian Forest
Anthony R.Taylor et al., 2019. Forest Ecology and Management Volume 434, 28 February 2019, Pages 255-263

Wind is an important driver of forest dynamics in eastern Canada, but knowledge of variables that predispose forest stands to windthrow remains unclear. This is of particular concern as climate change is expected to alter the frequency of strong wind events that affect eastern Canada. In this study, we used widescale forest survey data from Nova Scotia, Canada, of wind damage caused by Hurricane Juan, to investigate variables that influence stand vulnerability to windthrow. Juan made landfall as a category SS2 hurricane with sustained winds of 158 km/h and damaged over 600,000 ha of forest. The damage zone was surveyed using aerial photography and satellite imagery, delineated according to level of wind damage, and digitized as a 15 × 15 m resolution spatial raster layer. We selected a random sample of 50,000 cells classified as intact forest and 50,000 cells classified as stand-replacing windthrow from the raster layer and used boosted regression tree analysis to explore the influence of various meteorological, topographic, soil, and forest structural variables on the occurrence of windthrow. Wind speed and forest structure, specifically stand height and species composition, were most influential in determining windthrow. Sustained winds of at least 95 km/h or gusts of 130 km/h caused >50% probability of windthrow. Taller stands were most vulnerable, especially those dominated by spruce (Picea spp.) and balsam fir (Abies balsamea), whereas higher hardwood and pine abundance reduced windthrow. Interestingly, topographical exposure (Topex) ranked low in overall influence; however, a clear relationship between increased exposure and windthrow was observed. Contrary to expectations, mesic soils were most vulnerable to windthrow


Night Gliders
Article by Bob Bancroft about flying squirrels. In Saltscapes magazine

EDMUND S. TELFER: Continuing Environmental Change -An Example from Nova Scotia
Canadian Field-Naturalist 118(1): 39-44.
ABSTRACT: Information from personal experience, from community elders and published literature served as a basis for evaluating environmental changes in the District of North Queens and adjacent areas of Southwestern Nova Scotia over the past century. Major events included disappearance of the Caribou (Rangifer tarandus), the arrival of White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus), the severe reduction of Canada Yew (Taxus canadensis), disappearance of Lynx (Lynx canadensis), a major dieoff of Striped Skunks (Mephitis mephitis), decline of American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), the loss of mature birch (Betula spp.), the severe reduction of Moose (Alces alces), the arrival of the American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis) and Coyotes (Canis latrans), and the restoration of Beaver (Castor canadensis). The proximate cause of many of those changes were plant and animal disease, while the ultimate causes were naturally occurring animal range expansion and human impacts. The warming of the climate over the past 150 years probably played a role. The nature and timing of the events could not have been predicted.

Beetle Diversity Associated with Forest Structure including Deadwood in Softwood and Hardwood Stands in Nova Scotia
Kehler, Daniel et al. Proceedings of the Nova Scotian Institute of Science 2004 “Associations between beetles and forest stand characteristics, as well as beetle diversity, were investigated for 41 forest stands in Nova Scotia, Canada. Over 200 morphospecies from 45 Families of beetles were caught using window flight-intercept traps…”

lichens NY Botanical GardenCurious about lichens? See McMullin, T. and Anderson, F. 2014. Common Lichens of Northeastern North America. A Field Guide. New York Botanical Garden.
View An Interview with Dr. Troy McMullin, Author of Common Lichens of Northeastern North America.
Join Nova Scotians’ love affair with lichens and the forests in which they thrive!

Saproxylic beetle (Coleoptera) communities and forest management practices in coniferous stands in southwest Nova Scotia, Canada
Philana E. Dollin, Christopher G. Majka & Peter N. Duinker, ZooKeys 2(2) · September 2008 pp291-336.
Old-growth forest in Nova Scotia typically exhibits an uneven-aged, multi-layered stand structure and contains significant amounts of coarse woody debris. Many forest species, including invertebrates, depend in various ways on deadwood substrates. The objective of this study was to investigate relationships between forest stand age, silvicultural treatment, dead wood, and invertebrate biodiversity, using saproxylic beetles as an indicator group. Saproxylic beetle communities were also compared in the context of other studies in Nova Scotia. Beetles were gathered using four collection techniques: pitfall traps, funnel traps, sweep-netting, and manual searching. Results show that both stand age and harvest treatment had an effect on species richness and species composition. Younger stands had lower species richness and hosted a significantly different suite of species than medium-aged or older ones. Similarly, harvested stands had lower species richness and were host to a significantly different suite of species than unharvested stands. The results from the investigation of stand age are of particular interest. Forest management that disregards the dependence of different suites of beetles on forest stands of various ages and compositions, emphasizing even-aged single-species stands, may be harmful to the species diversity of Nova Scotia’s forest ecosystems. View also Soren’s contribution in Arthropods of Canadian Forests April 2005

Resources for Identifying the Plants of Nova Scotia
Comprehensive list of floras, field guides and major online resources to plants, lichens and bryophytes (mosses and the like).

Beetle diversity associated with forest structure including deadwood in softwood and hardwood stands in Nova Scotia
Daniel Kehler, Søren Bondrup-Nielsen* and Cristine Corkum Proceedimgs of the NS Institute of Science 42: 227-239, 2004
ABSTRACT: Associations between beetles and forest stand characteristics, as well as beetle diversity, were investigated for 41 forest stands in Nova Scotia, Canada. Over 200 morphospecies from 45 Familiesof beetles were caught using window flight-intercept traps. In both years, correspondence analysis revealed distinct groupings of softwood and hardwood stands based on species assemblages. Multiple regression analysis was used to determine associations between forest variables and total species richness. Analyses were conducted for all stands combined and for hardwood and softwood stands separately. Hardwood stands had greater beetle richness than softwood stands. Within hardwood stands, volume of intermediate-sized deadwood was the best predictor of total species richness. Within softwood stands, volume of well-decayed deadwood was the best predictor of total beetle richness. Deadwood volume was associated with stand age in softwoods, and it appears that over 140 years is required for deadwood volume to reach pre-disturbance levels.

Putting a Value on the Ecosystem Services provided by Forests in the Eastern United States: Case Studies on Natural Capital and Conservation
The Nature Conservancy, Nov. 2017. USA but the principles apply across the border. The Natural Capital Valuation for a case study site in Lower Penobscot, Maine (in the Northern Appalachian-Acadian Ecoregion which includes Nova Scotia) is $4,200 per acre per year.
Thanks to SBN for passing this one on.

GPI put $ values on our (NS) forests’ Natural Capital in 2001. See The Nova Scotia GPI Forest Accounts Volume 1: Indicators of Ecological, Economic & Social Values of Forests in Nova Scotia (2001 by S Wilson, R Coleman, M O’Brien & L. Pannozzo

Using Calicioid Lichens and Fungi to Assess Ecological Continuity in the Acadian Forest
Youtube video of talk by Dr. Steven Selva – Using Calicioid Lichens and Fungi to Assess Ecological Continuity in the Acadian Forest
Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute Old Forest Conservation Conference at the Debert Hospitality Centre in Debert, Nova Scotia. October 19-21st, 2016

What is an old-growth forest?
Maine DNR. Some useful associated pages: Types of old-growth forests, Importance of old-growth forests, Survival of old-growth forests, Visit an old-growth forest, DNR old-growth forest policy – goals & results, Managing old-growth forests

Old Growth” Forests Defined by Key Ecological Characteristics
Joe Rankin in . dec 20, 2016

The forests of Canada and their distribution with notes on the more interesting species
John Macoun ~1895, 20pp Royal Society of Canada. Historical doc, pespective. Includes a page on NS

Forest conditions of Nova Scotia
Fernow, E. et al., 2012. Conservation Commission, Ottawa. Classic, important historical documentation. Illustrates extent of forest fires.

Donna R. Crossland. A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science in Forestry, UNB, 2006. 322 pages

Bev Wigney on Super Canopy Trees
Post on Annapolis Royal & Area – Environment & Ecology, Mar 10, 2019

We’re all becoming just sick — heart sick — of seeing these great old super canopy trees hacked down — when they should be left standing to provide nest cavities for Flying Squirrels, Pileated Woodpeckers, Owls, and even Chimney Swifts! Their lower branches provide nesting sites for migratory songbirds, and their highest branches provide roosts and nesting sites for Ravens, Hawks and Eagles. Sheltered among their roots, Fox, Porcupine and other mammals make their burrows and dens. They host colonies of fungi, and their leaves feed the larvae of countless species of moths and butterflies. Their bark feeds or provides habitat for other insects which are then food to birds. They produce seed for generations of trees to come. Many produce nuts to feed many creatures including Bear. They store carbon in their wood and in their roots and the ground beneath. They give shade and help to moderate climate. Long after they begin to die, they are still filled with life. The trunks continue to provide shelter for many creatures. When they finally fall to the earth, they become nurse trees for mosses, ferns, lichen, fungi, while saplings of the next generation take root in their decaying mass as it returns to the earth from which it grew. Tell me how a tree that provides so much to the biodiversity of a forest is worth nothing more than two or three hundred bucks and be carted off to be burnt in a biomass plant here in Nova Scotia, or chipped and shipped off to fuel a power plant in Europe or the UK. No, these trees are the “real gold” in our forests when left in place for our children and grandchildren — and not to be sold off like worthless debris.

Global change impacts on forest and fire dynamics using paleoecology and tree census data for eastern North America
Marc D. AbramsEmail, Gregory J. Nowacki . Annals of Forest Science March 2019, 76:8. Popular account: Eastern forests shaped more by Native Americans’ burning than climate change Jeff Mulhollem on May 21, 2019

Titus Smith
“Biographical history: Titus Smith (Junior) was born in Granby, Mass. on 4 September 1768. His family, being Sandemanian pacifists, were obliged to flee from the violence of the American Revolution to Halifax, N.S. in 1783. Smith eventually settled in Dutch Village (which later became a western suburb of Halifax), where he made his living as a farmer and occasional land surveyor. He conducted botanical experiments on his farm, successfully adapting a variety of seeds to the province’s harsh climate. In 1801, Smith was commissioned by the Lieutenant Governor to undertake the first exhaustive study of Nova Scotia’s interior. Smith undertook three treks into the province’s interior between 1801and 1802, and submitted his findings in journals which provided a highly detailed account of Nova Scotia’s forests, rivers, geological features, and wildlife. The text of the journals was accompanied by Smith’s sketches of the plants he encountered and one of the first reliable general maps of the province. Smith’s great abilities were immediately recognized, and for the rest of his life he was frequently consulted on matters relating to botany, natural, history, agriculture, and the correct use of natural resources. He served as secretary of the province’s Central Board of Agriculture from 1841 until his death, and was appointed an overseer of roads on four occassions. Smith helped to found the Halifax Mechanic’s Institute, and lectured frequently before it. He contributed regular articles to several provincial newspapers, edited the Halifax newspaper Colonial Farmer, and wrote the text for highly-regarded book Wild flowers of Nova Scotia.. Smith’s writings and lectures, in which he urged respect for divine providence and the rhythms of nature, won him a reputation as the “Rural Philisopher of the Dutch Village”. Smith married Sarah Wisdom of Halifax in 1803. The couple had fourteen children. In the autumn of 1849, Titus Smith was stricken with jaundice and never recovered, dying on 4 January 1850 in Dutch Village.”

heather McLeod, MA Thesis, SMU 1995. “This thesis examines the ecological changes in the land that took place with the
European colonization of Nova Scotia over a three hundred year period (1600-1900).
Publio accounts of Nova Scotia’s landscape are studied to determine what kind of
environment these newcomers first encountered and how the natural history features
of the land changed with settlement. The diverse cultural responses to landscape are
examined and categorised into distinct patterns of responses to nature. Narratives are
also used to determine natural history patterns and the transformations that came with
agriculture, lumbering, the fisheries and fur trade. Central to this story are the tensions
between two different cultures colliding – Micmac and European- and the ties to the
land that both united and divided them. Ecological consequences of both ways of
living in nature – the hunter and the cultivator – are examined.
This thesis makes a contribution to our collective understanding of the central role of
nature in Nova Scotia’s past cultural history. Three centuries of discourse over the
land reveal an intense interest in this subject and serve to expand our vision of the
natural world and the role of humans in it.

Deer browsing is not stopping the densification of Eastern forests
by Jeff Mulhollem, Pennsylvania State University on SEPTEMBER 4, 2019

Eastern forests shaped more by Native Americans’ burning than climate change
by Pennsylvania State University, MAY 21, 2019 on

Preventing future forest diebacks
by Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg on Oct 2, 2019. “Clear-up and reforestation is not the right strategy, forest ecologists Simon Thorn, Joerg Mueller and Alexandro Leverkus. “This policy is likely to create extensive, even forest stands that remain particularly vulnerable to the impacts of future climate change,” says Simon Thorn. Germany should therefore reconsider its strategic and financial efforts to create forests resilient to future climate change. Here a radical change is necessary: The scientists suggest not to remove dead wood and not to conduct reforestation on large scales. …According to Thorn, large-scale clear-ups following natural disturbances have negative effects on the diversity of insects which are dependent on deadwood. ”

Borealization of the New England – Acadian Forest: a review of the evidence
Noseworthy, Joshua & Beckley, Thomas Environmental Reviews, Accepted for Publication 2020 ABSTRACT
The New England-Acadian Forest (NEAF) is an ecoregion spanning 24 million hectares of the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada. The region is characterized as a transitional forest naturally composed of both boreal and temperate species. The term “borealization” is sometimes used to describe various processes driving the NEAF toward a more boreal character at the expense of its temperate forest species and ecological communities. That the NEAF has undergone significant landscape-scale change in the last four centuries since European settlement is well understood. The purpose of this manuscript is to review the literature on the forest composition and dynamics of this region to investigate whether past, current, and/or predicted future processes of change are indeed driving the forest toward a more boreal character. We examine studies on the historical forest composition, impacts of past and current land-use practices, as well as indirect anthropogenic changes that are predicted to influence future forest compositions of the NEAF. We review over 100 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles and government reports related to this issue. We find ample evidence to suggest that, at the landscape scale, there has been widespread replacement of temperate tree species by boreal species since European settlement. Five primary drivers have facilitated borealization across the NEAF: logging and high-grading, natural reforestation of abandoned farmland, industrial clearcutting, anthropogenic fire, and boreal conifer plantations. Furthermore, the borealization of the NEAF has continued to occur in direct contrast to the predicted impacts of climate change. We encourage future scholarship to tackle these aspects of borealization in the NEAF, including its social, economic, and ecological implications.

The future of natural regen: Understanding forest succession can help to predict climate-change impacts
Anthony R Taylor in Atlantic Forestry Review, May 2020

From the AFR article by Anthony R Taylor