Limestone Barrens



A Brief History of Biological Studies in our "Limestone" Regions

Biologists have visited our "limestone" regions for almost two hundred years.

Slowly, but surely, they have pieced together a fascinating picture of the biological richness and uniqueness of the land.

Below is a brief history of their numerous efforts. [CLICK ON SUCCESSIVE LINKS to access increasingly more detailed accounts. "Author/date links" will very often lead to downloadable original papers and articles.]

William Wheeler Point, Bay of Islands. Vegetated "limestone" scree. Luc Brouillet
photographing the rare Rock Dwelling Sedge (Carex petricosa var. misandroides).
2000. Photo: Nathalie Djan-Chékar. [CLICK image to enlarge.]

BOTANY: [the study of plants]

    The very first scientist to report on our "limestone plants" was the French naturalist Auguste Jean Marie Bachelot de la Pylaie, who collected at Ingornachoix Bay while travelling in northern Newfoundland in 1820.

    During 1866-1868, the English naturalist Henry Reeks resided at Cow Head, primarily to observe Newfoundland birds. However, he also recorded many of the local plants - including several "limestone" species - and kept a detailed weather journal.

    About the same time, the Reverend S. R. Butler, a Congregational Church minister, collected "limestone plants" on the Labrador Straits (ie. the Labrador side of the Strait of Belle Isle).

    The Reverend Arthur C. Waghorne, a Church of England missionary, and the first botanist to be a full-time resident of Newfoundland and Labrador, also collected "limestone plants" on the Labrador Straits, during the summers of 1893 and 1894.

    In 1906, Sir William MacGregor, Governor of Newfoundland, made a brief visit to Anse Sablon (now Blanc Sablon). While there he made a collection of plants that included many "limestone species". The border between Québec and Labrador is presently situated at the eastern boundary of the town of Blanc Sablon. Whether or not MacGregor actually collected on the Labrador side of this border is unknown.

    In 1908, American botanist Edwin H. Eames, and his travelling companion Dr. Charles C. Godfrey, explored the southwest coast of the Island of Newfoundland, from the Bay of Islands to Port aux Basques. In the Bay of Islands, where the majority of their time was spent, they investigated a number of "limestone" cliffs and scree slopes.

    The American botanist Merritt Lyndon Fernald first travelled to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1910, and then, again, in 1911, 1914, 1924, 1925, 1926 and 1929, accompanied, on each trip, by various colleagues and students, including such botanical luminaries as Karl M. Wiegand and Bayard H. Long. The "limestone" regions of Newfoundand's west coast held a particular fascination for Fernald, who can truly be called "the "Father of Newfoundland Botany".

    Miss Mary E. Priest took over the Grenfell Mission Hospital in Flowers Cove in 1920. During her rare moments of leisure, in 1920 and 1921, she collected many interesting "limestone plants" for Fernald.

    Intrigued by Fernald's early successes in Newfoundland, the American sedge specialist Kenneth K. Mackenzie botanized the southwest coast of Newfoundland, including the "limestone" areas, in 1921 and 1922. His travelling companion was the well-known American ornithologist Ludlow Griscom.

    A. G. Huntsman, the Director of the Biological Board of Canada, collected "limestone plants" for Fernald along both sides of the Strait of Belle Isle in 1923.

    While in Newfoundland with Merritt Lyndon Fernald in 1924, 1925, and 1926, Bayard H. Long independently collected 165 species and varieties of mosses, mostly from "limestone" areas.

    Englishman J. Hubert Penson came to Newfoundland in the early-1930s, and stayed on until about 1941. He spent most of this time as Commissioner of Finance for the "Commission of Government of Newfoundland". Also a keen botanist, Penson made significant Newfoundland plant collections, mostly in the "limestone" regions of the Great Northern Peninsula, in 1940 and 1941.

    Finnish botanist and entomologist Risto Tuomikoski, of the University of Helsinki, travelled to Newfoundland in 1949, with fellow entomologists Harry Krogerus, Carl H. Lindroth and Ernest Palmén. He collected many bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) and vascular plants throughout the Island (76 localities), including on our "limestone barrens" between Burnt Cape in the north and the Port au Port Peninsula in the south.

    As curator of the Marie-Victorin Herbarium at the University of Montreal, Ernest Rouleau spent 22 summers botanizing in Newfoundland and Labrador. He collected plants in all sorts of habitats, including the "limestone" regions. André Bouchard [image] and Stuart Hay, also of the University of Montreal, carried on the work of Ernest Rouleau, being eventually joined by Luc Brouillet. The Herbarium of Gros Morne National Park grew out of the Northern Peninsula studies of this group. In recent years, Michael Burzynski, and other Parks Canada personnel, have continued to add to this collection.

    John E. Maunder of the Newfoundland Museum (now The Rooms Provincial Museum) [now retired] collected regularly in the "limestone" regions of Newfoundland and Labrador, especially between 1996 and 2003.

    Henry Mann of Sir Wilfred Grenfell College (now Memorial University of Newfoundland, Corner Brook Campus) has also collected extensively in the "limestone" regions.

    In 1998, in the interest of conserving two extremely rare and "at-risk" Braya mustard species living on the Great Northern Peninsula, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador set up a "Braya Recovery Team" (now expanded to become the "Limestone Barrens Species at Risk Recovery Team"). Over the years, this recovery team has fostered an enormous amount of basic biological research on the "limestone barrens".

    The Newfoundland Rare Plant Project, formed in 1999 under the auspices of the Provincial Wildlife Division, pulled together botanists from a number of sources, in an attempt to better understand the rare plants of the entire Province. However, much of the Project's collecting was done in the "limestone" regions.

    The Species Status Advisory Committee [see also: here] was established in 2001 under the Provincial Endangered Species Act. It has so far commissioned ten species status reports on "limestone" species. In most cases, botanical field work has been conducted in support of these studies.

    Comprehensive studies were carried out by Claudia Hanel on the Labrador Straits in 2004, and at Doctor's Brook in 2005. At both localities, many "limestone" plants were collected. Hanel has continued to collect in the "limestone" regions since joining the Provincial Wildlife Division.

    René Belland has studied mosses and liverworks extensively in the Gulf of St. Lawrence region, including on our "limestone barrens".

    A number of university students have also produced theses and dissertations focused on the "limestone barrens" of the Great Northern Peninsula.

MYCOLOGY [the study of fungi]:

    Between 2003 and 2010, the Foray Newfoundland and Labrador group has collected mushrooms in "limestone" rich areas near Lomond (Gros Morne National Park), at Burnt Cape, and in the "limestone" rich L'Anse-Amour, Labrador, area.

ZOOLOGY: [the study of animals]

    While engaged in his botanical exploits with Merritt Lyndon Fernald, Bayard H. Long made the first serious collections of land and freshwater molluscs from the Island in 1924, 1925 and 1929, mostly from "limestone" areas.

    Scandanavian entomologists Harry Krogerus, Carl H. Lindroth, Ernest Palmén and Risto Tuomikoski travelled to Newfoundland in 1949, and collected insects throughout the Island (76 localities), including on our "limestone barrens" between Burnt Cape in the north and the Port au Port Peninsula in the south.

    John Maunder of the Newfoundland Museum (now The Rooms Provincial Museum) [now retired] has more recently made much larger collections of land and freshwater molluscs in the "limestone" regions.

    Anne Marie Hynes, a student at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College (now Memorial University of Newfoundland, Corner Brook Campus), conducted an analysis of surface dwelling spiders on Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve in 2003.

[Page last updated: February 29, 2012]

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