An ecosystem can be defined as "a functional unit consisting of all the living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) in a given area, and all the non-living physical and chemical factors in their environment, linked together through nutrient cycling and energy flow.

An ecosystem can be of any size- a log, pond, field, forest or the earth's biosphere - but it always functions as a whole unit. Ecosystems are commonly described according to the major type of vegetation; for example, forest ecosystem, old-growth ecosystem, or range ecosystem.

The Muskwa-Kechika Management Area has many different ecosystems. Some that you may be familiar with include wetlands such as bogs (sometimes referred to as muskeg) and fens, high elevation alpine areas, mid-slope areas and river valleys.

M-KMA Classified Ecosystems: Biogeoclimatic Zones
There are 14 Biogeoclimatic Zones in British Columbia, 4 of which are found within the M-KMA:

  • Alpine Tundra (AT)
  • Spruce-Willow-Birch (SWB)
  • Boreal White and Black Spruce (BWBS)
  • Englemann Spruce-Subalpine Fir (ESSF)

The following descriptions are summarized from the Special Report Series 6. Ecosystems of British Columbia. Compiled and Editied by D. Meidinger and J. Pojar. BC Ministry of Forests. February 1991. Biogeoclimatic Zones are determined primarily by vegetation and soil characteristics, and influenced by the climate, geology, geography and hydrology in an area.

Alpine Tundra Zone

The Northern Interior Alpine Tundra Zone covers a relatively large portion of the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area. Although there is variation between alpine tundra ecosystems within the province there are general characteristics that can be identified. The Alpine Tundra Zone is found at high elevations greater than1400 metres, near mountain tops, with colder temperatures and shorter growing seasons. The vegetation is mainly shrubby with some plants, grasses, mosses and lichens. This zone can be beautiful in early to mid summer when the alpine flowers such as mountain avens, buttercups, lilies and paintbrushes are in bloom. Examples of animals found in this zone are Caribou, Stone's Sheep, Mountain Goats, Snowshoe Hares and Ground Squirrels. Resource values in this area of the M-KMA are mainly horseback riding, hunting, hiking, camping, and snowmobiling.

Spruce-Willow Birch Zone

The Spruce-Willow-Birch Zone is located at an elevation lower than the Alpine Tundra but higher than the Boreal White and Black Spruce Zone in the subalpine between 900-1500 metres. The main trees in this zone are white spruce and subalpine fir. Muncho Lake is provided as an example climate in this zone with mean annual temperature between -0.7 - 3°C and mean annual precipitation between 460-700 mm (35-60% as snowfall). Large mammals such as Moose, Caribou, Mountain Goat, Stone's Sheep, wolves and black and grizzly bears can be found in this zone. Examples of smaller animals include wood frogs, western toads, spruce grouse, ravens, squirrels, wolverines and marten.

Boreal White and Black Spruce Zone

The Boreal White and Black Spruce Zone is found throughout the M-KMA in areas of lower elevation, especially through the Rocky Mountain Trench and connecting valleys, as well as along the eastern edge of the M-KMA, toward the Great Plains. This zone has long cold winters and short growing seasons, with occurrences of permafrost. Some trees that you may encounter in this zone are white and black spruce, paper birch and subalpine fir. Bluebells, highbush cranberry, and a variety of willows, Moose, Whitetail and Mule Deer, Black bear, Porcupine and other wildlife can be found in this zone as well.

Englemann Spruce-Subalpine Fir Zone

The Englemann Spruce-Subalpine Fir Zone is found at a lower elevation than the alpine tundra in the M-KMA, and frequently along steep, rugged slopes. Dominant trees found within this zone include Englemann spruce and subalpine fir, with a range of forest types from heavily forest mid-slopes to subalpine parkland at higher elevations. In disturbed areas such as avalanche tracks, there are deciduous/leafy trees such as sitka alder. Habitat is available for animals like Moose, Caribou, Mountain Goat, Snowshoe Hare, Gray Wolf, Fisher and Marten, and for birds like owls, warblers, and woodpeckers.

Ecosystem Classification

In BC, the Biogeoclimatic Zone ecosystem classification system was developed by the Ministry of Forests and Range. Biogeoclimatic Zones are smaller zones within a larger classification system which can be broken down from ecoprovinces into ecosections into biogeoclimatic zones and even further into site specific areas called site series.