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Rare moss designated key biodiversity area in Quttinirpaaq National Park

Canada’s northernmost park is home to pockets of a moss called “Porsild’s Bryum”, a “species at risk”
Porsild’s Bryum, a “tiny, brilliant green moss that’s found in few places in the world” according to a news release from Parks Canada and the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada. Photo courtesy of René Belland

Quttinirpaaq National Park is not only a sought-out travel destination for outdoors enthusiasts, it is now recognized for being home to a “tiny, brilliant green moss that’s found in few places in the world,” according to Parks Canada and the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada.

A special gully inside Canada’s northernmost park is home to a moss called “Porsild’s Bryum” (ijju nunami/ᐃᔾᔪ ᓄᓇᒥ in Inuktitut). The name “Porsild’s” comes from Alf Erling Porsild, a Dutch-Canadian botanist who grew up in Greenland, while Bryum refers to a sub-species of moss.

According to Darrin Reid, resource conservation manager of Nunavut North Parks, “it’s pretty rare. There are only 17 populations of one species. It always sparkles, and always looks kind of wet.”

He said Porsild’s Bryum is so rare because “they have a particular habitat that they like, ie. shaded areas or deep crevices near waterfalls, where they make colonies. The only one I’ve seen in Quttinirpaaq is smaller than my hand.”

The moss thrives on a certain type of calciferous rock with a chalky or sandy quality to it.

Three moss populations have been identified in the park, in an area called Tanquary Fjord.

In general, the moss is “sort of of all over Canada”, but the populations “are not connected in any way,” according to Reid.

The very specific requirements of the plant’s habitat are partly the reason for its place on the “threatened” population list — about mid-range in terms of becoming endangered. It is considered a “species at risk,” which is why the gully in Quttinirpaaq “is now a key biodiversity area — a site that plays an outsized role in maintaining globally and nationally significant biodiversity.”

If this species and the role it plays in biodiversity is lost, the consequences are potentially huge as “we don’t know how this species interacts with the ecosystem. It could have cascading effects. This is what Parks Canada does,” Reid emphasized, “because it’s important we keep biodiversity to keep species safe from threats that come along.”

Threats are varied, but include climate change, which could cause “a prolonged drought, or temperature extremes” that would threaten the survival of the species, leading to a degraded population and ultimately, extinction, Reid explained.

In terms of being susceptible to natural predators, such as insects or caribou populations, “that aspect has not been studied to the extent that it would be possible to say that it is or it isn’t,” said Jennifer Doubt, curator of botany at the Canadian Museum of Nature, “but as of 2018 (the year of the last status update) none were suspected… [the moss] is very vulnerable to environmental changes and events associated with climate change.”

The moss’s habitat within Quttinirpaaq National Park is a zone with controlled access, restricting campers and tourists from the area. Any visitors are subject to an orientation with staff before going into the park, although Reid acknowledges that the remote location in the crevices of waterfalls are “not the kind of place people are going to go.”

The role of Parks Canada is “to protect vast swaths of land. The key biodiversity area lets us highlight what’s extra special in these extra special places,” said Reid.

Before designating the area, park management spoke to residents in Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord, several hundred kilometres to the south.

“They were pretty excited to have the designation for this area,” Reid said.

Kira Wronska Dorward

About the Author: Kira Wronska Dorward

I attended Trinity College as an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, graduating in 2012 as a Specialist in History. In 2014 I successfully attained a Master of Arts in Modern History from UofT..
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