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MainRiverEcosystem


The Meat-Eating Pitcher Plant

Summer visitors to the Main River are likely to notice the tube-shaped leaves and single, drooping reddish flower of the pitcher plant. They may be aware that the unusual-looking plant is Newfoundland's provincial flower, but they may be surprised to learn that it is carnivorous.

Acid Digestion: The pitcher plant's diet, which includes not only insects, but also mites, spiders and the even the occasional small frog, has evolved to supply nitrogen which is lacking in the soil. The plant's prey, attracted by the red-veined leaves, is trapped by downward pointing bristles which not only prevent escape, but force it further down into the rain and dew held by the "pitcher." It is then digested by an enzyme and absorbed into the plant as food.

Newfoundland's Precarious Pine Marten
The Newfoundland pine marten is an elusive animal. Solitary, agile and largely nocturnal, it is rarely seen by naturalists. But this dark-eyed, bushy-tailed member of the weasel family (about the size of a housecat) has one other, sometimes fatal, characteristic: it is intensely curious. Inquisitive - and perpetually hungry - martens are easily lured into traps and snares meant for rabbits and other animals. Accidental trapping, along with habitat disturbance caused by commercial logging, have combined to put the Newfoundland pine marten population on the endangered species list.

Scarce, and Getting Scarcer: The pine marten is one of only 14 mammals that are truly native to Newfoundland. Although the island isolation of the province has resulted in a subspecies not found anywhere else, the Newfoundland pine marten population has probably never been robust. A naturally-occurring scarcity of prey - voles, squirrels and snowshoe hares - has limited its growth.

But as mature coniferous forests have disappeared, the modest but healthy marten population which once covered the entire island is now restricted to small pockets of suitable habitat, such as the Main River watershed, Little Grand Lake and Red Indian Lake. In the early 1980's, it was estimated that there were between 630 and 875 pine martens in Newfoundland. By 1998, the total population had declined to 300.

Marten Preservation and Recovery: Pine martens thrive in mature forests, with dense underbrush and fallen trees. Destruction of habitat, primarily due to commercial logging, continues to be the major threat to the Newfoundland pine marten. In the Main River watershed (home of the second-largest population of Newfoundland pine martens), plans to log much of the watershed's forests have alarmed biologists and conservationists.

Big Steady Meadowlands
Sandwiched between the rocky upper river and the lower rapids of the Main, the Big Steady is an enriched floodplain of calm waters, bordered by lush meadows. Ancient birch and spruce trees, some with trunks as large as 75 centimetres, line the banks, and several plant species near their northern and limits thrive in the surrounding grasslands. Moose, woodland caribou and black bear are drawn to the Big Steady river valley. Canada geese, common goldeneye, black duck, green-winged teal and red-breasted mergansers are among the waterfowl that are drawn to the tranquil river environment.

Commercial trapping of pine martens in the province has been illegal since 1934. In some areas of the island, where marten populations have been identified, traps and snares have been forbidden altogether. In others, trappers are required to turn in any martens that are accidentally caught. A Newfoundland Pine Martin Recovery Team was established in 1990, with the goal of restoring the island's marten population to a point where it is no longer considered threatened with extinction. Habitat protection, captive breeding and re-introduction are all part of the strategy. Re-introduction of martens to the Main River watershed during the 1970's may have contributed to the population which currently exists in the area.

Pine Marten Profile
Classification: (Martes Americana atrata) The Newfoundland pine marten is a larger, darker subspecies of the American marten. The marten is an arboreal (tree-climbing) member of the weasel family.

Description: The Newfoundland marten has a slender body, short limbs, long, rounded ears, black eyes, yellowish-brown fur, and a light buff patch on its throat and belly. Its tail is about half the length of its body. Both male and female martens have scent glands under their tails and under the skin of their bellies. They drag their bellies over logs and vegetation, using their abdominal glands to mark their territories.

Food Habits: Unlike other members of the weasel family, pine martens are agile tree climbers, but they do most of their hunting on the ground. The pine marten is omnivorous, feeding on small mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, carrion, fruits, nuts and insects. Mice and red squirrels are favoured prey. The marten is largely nocturnal. It does not hibernate, and is active all winter.

Breeding: Newfoundland martens reach sexual maturity at 15 months of age. Mating takes place once a year, in spring. Females den in hollow trees, crevices or vacant ground burrows, and give birth to 1 to 5 "kits."

Habitat: Preferred marten habitat is coniferous forest with a mixture of mature and fallen trees. Martens avoid open and disturbed habitat.

Do Not Disturb: The Old Growth Forests of the Main
Although the oldest trees in the Main River watershed are no more than 260 years old, the Main's woodlands are sometimes referred to as an ancient forest. The reason? The Main's boreal ecosystem has remained intact since it was established after the retreat of the glaciers thousands of years ago.

The forests of the Main have remained insulated from insects, disease, fire and wind, the natural enemies of boreal forests elsewhere in Canada. Relatively, undisturbed by the large-scale blowdowns, raging forest fires, and spruce budworm infestations that have ravaged other Newfoundland woodlands, the balsam fir and black spruce of the Main have been left to live out their natural cycles of birth, growth, death and decay.

A Close-Knit Forest Family: The lack of disturbance to the Main watershed has resulted in a highly diverse, multi-generational forest "family" rarely seen in modern environments. Balsam fir lives to 3 times their normal life span. Trees of many different sizes and diameters grow side by side, interspersed with fallen trunks and decomposing logs. Very old trees, still standing, and branches that have fallen to the forest floor are often covered with mosses and lichens. Woodland caribou are drawn to "old man's beard," a lichen that grows on the trees of the Main. Decomposing fallen logs often become "nurse logs," acting as a seed bed for young trees.