Northwestern Lake Superior Coast Natural Area
Waves crash on the northwestern Lake Superior Coast, Ontario (Photo by John Anderson)
The northwestern shores of Lake Superior are a unique landscape and a key area for Great Lakes biodiversity. They are located within the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area.
Situated where the climate is more temperate than the vast boreal zone dominating the north shore of Lake Superior, the area is a transition zone between moist mixed forests to the south and drier boreal forests to the north. Forests with distinctive moss and lichen communities exist throughout this natural area. Within this context, rugged ridges, cliffs and mesas offer extreme south and north-facing microclimates.
Moderated by the largest lake in the world, coastal splash lines and ice-scoured exposed bedrock support plant communities that followed the glacial retreat. Raised boulder beaches and coastal wetlands offer yet another layer of habitat complexity.
This unique meeting place between north and south supports many species and community types that are globally rare. Many of the globally rare community types and disjunct species in the study area occur in arctic-alpine disjunct associations. These are glacial relict communities that have been able to persist along the relatively cold shores of Lake Superior.
This region still supports many species of wide-ranging mammals, such as gray wolf and Canada lynx. However woodland caribou are now extirpated (locally extinct) here. The shoreline areas of Lake Superior are important stopover sites for migrating waterfowl, shorebirds, colonial nesting waterbirds and land birds.
The Northwestern Lake Superior Coast Natural Area is a landscape rich with history. It was historically used as a primary North American trade and transportation route for more than 4,000 years.