Habitats: Hiking through the boreal forest

Meet Michael Peers, the scientist tracking changes in Newfoundland's woodlands.

Meet the scientist tracking changes in Newfoundland's woodland

Habitats: Hiking through the boreal forest

2 years ago
Duration 4:32
Meet Michael Peers, the scientist tracking changes in Newfoundland's woodlands.

CBC News is deepening its commitment to climate change coverage with a special ongoing series, called "Our Changing Planet," that explores the challenges our environment is facing and the solutions needed to make a difference for future generations.

The boreal forest is the world's largest biome, and it covers most of Newfoundland and Labrador.

"This habitat includes some broadleaf species like birch, but it's mostly coniferous trees like pine, spruce, hemlock and fir. When we talk about the boreal forest, we're also talking about the area's climate, the waterways, the phrase encompasses the whole thing," said Michael Peers, a post-doctoral researcher at Memorial University.

His previous work was conducted in the Yukon, but he's in Newfoundland and Labrador studying how climate change impacts snowshoe hares and other species in the boreal forest.

"Boreal forests are important. They absorb carbon dioxide. In a healthy boreal forest all the systems are interconnected, self-sustaining and can manage without much interference. With climate change, species like the snowshoe hare are impacted, which impacts the number of predators, which could change the boreal forest," he said.

Peers traps and releases snowshoe hares as part of his ongoing research.

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He's studying how less snow in the winters affects the hare's ability to survive.

"Winters are shorter, so we're seeing hares remain white against the green grass. It's easy for predators to pick them off. We're also seeing less snow. Hares have developed these large feet that give them an edge in deep snow, but with less small amount of hard, dense snow, they're losing that edge over lynx and coyotes," he said.

To study hares, Peers sets traps in the forest.

Once he captures a hare, he weighs it, sexes it, tags it and releases it into the wild.

"It looks a bit stressful for the hare, but it's not bad for them at all. When you consider the cost/benefit analysis of understanding how the species is impacted, it's worth it," he said.

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Andie Bulman

Freelance contributor

Andie Bulman is a chef, writer and comedian in St. John's. She is the author of the book Salt Beef Buckets: A Love Story and writes frequently for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador.