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Ecoregion Description

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Species Richness

# of Endemic Species


114: Gulf of St.Lawrence Coastal Drainages

Major Habitat Type:

temperate coastal rivers


Text modified from Abell et al. 2000. Freshwater Ecoregions of North America: A Conservation Assessment. Island Press, Washington, DC, USA.


Nicholas Mandrak, Centre of Expertise for Aquatic Risk Assessment




This ecoregion is defined largely by the drainages along the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence from the Saguenay River drainage east to the Atlantic Ocean. The ecoregion covers part of southern Quebec and southern mainland Newfoundland (Labrador).

Drainages flowing into:

All drainages flow into the Atlantic Ocean.

Main rivers or other water bodies:

Among numerous rivers and lakes in the ecoregion are the Saint-Maurice River, Manicouagan River, Saint-Marguerite River, Magpie River, Little Mecatina River, and Lake Manicouagan.


The ecoregion is underlain by Precambrian and Archean granites and gneisses, with elevations ranging between sea level and 1000 m. Steep slopes occur along the coast, and wide river valleys incise the rolling and undulating terrain within the interior (Ricketts et al. 1999).


The ecoregion generally experiences cool summers and cold winters, with average summer temperatures around 8.5 ºC and average winter temperatures between -8 ºC to -13 ºC. Precipitation averages between 1000 and 1200 mm across the ecoregion, increasing as one moves from west to east (ESWG 1995). Fog is prevalent around coastal areas.

Freshwater habitats:

The drainages are dominated by moderately large lakes and rivers carved out Canadian Shield by the last Ice Age. Unlike most of the freshwater habitats in eastern Canada that were formed as a result of glaciation, Lake Manicouagan in Quebec was formed by a different mechanism. A nearly circular ring around a central island, this lake is the crater of a huge bolide impact that occurred some 212 million years ago. The crater has been worn down by repeated glaciation (Strain and Engle 1993).

Terrestrial Habitats:

The ecoregion is characterized by boreal forest, dominated by a mix of balsam fir (Abies balsamea) and black spruce (Picea mariana). Balsam fir is more prevalent toward the eastern part of the ecoregion due to the maritime influence of the Atlantic, and white spruce (Picea glauca) dominates in coastal areas affected by sea salt spray. Moss-heath vegetation or barrens are also common in coastal areas affected by high winds (Ricketts et al. 1999).

Fish Fauna:

The fish fauna of this ecoregion is relatively depauparate as a result of its isolation by the marine Gulf of St. Lawrence and long distances from glacial refugia. The fishes in this ecoregion are primarily from the Atlantic refugium and secondarily from the Mississippian refugium. Many species in this ecoregion are secondary freshwater species such as American eel (Anguilla rostrata), Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax), shads (Alosa spp.), sticklebacks (Gasterosteidae), trouts (Salvelinus spp.), and whitefishes (Coregonus spp.). The primary freshwater fishes are largely comprised of several minnow (Cyprinidae) and perch (Percidae) species. 

Description of endemic fishes:

There are no known endemic species in this ecoregion.

Other noteworthy fishes:

The marine tomcod (Microgadus tomcod) has established a landlocked population in Lake St. John, Quebec.

Other noteworthy aquatic biotic elements:

Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas), which inhabit the St. Lawrence River estuary, are critically endangered, with fewer than 500 remaining (Kemf and Phillips 1998).

Ecological phenomena:

This ecoregion was noted for runs of catadromous American eel and anadromous Atlantic salmon; however, stocks of both these species are declining.

Evolutionary phenomena:


Justification for delineation:

The ecoregions of Canada were identified based on the faunal similarity of 166 major watersheds based on a cluster analysis of freshwater fish occurrences in these watersheds. The Gulf of St. Lawrence ecoregion contains watersheds that drain into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a marine barrier to the dispersal of freshwater fishes. Given its isolation and large distances from glacial refugia, the fish fauna of this ecoregion is relatively depauparate, but most characteristic of the fauna derived from the closest refugium – the Atlantic refugium.

Level of taxonomic exploration:



Abell, R., Olson, D., et al. (2000). "Freshwater ecoregions of North America" Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

Eswg (1995) "A national ecological framework for Canada". Ottawa/Hull, Ontario, Canada. Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, Research Branch, Centre for Land and Biological Resources Research; and Environment Canada, State of the Environment Directorate, Ecozone Analysis Branch..

Ricketts, Taylor H. Dinerstein Eric Olson David M. Loucks Colby J. (1999). "Terrestrial ecoregions of North America: A conservation assessment" Washington, D.C.: World Wildlife Fund.

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