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Natural History Perspective of Winnipeg

The landscape around Winnipeg is influenced by climate, topography, time and more recently humans. These factors play the major role in what plants and animals call Winnipeg home, and what communities (habitat types) they form.

Winnipeg is in the Tall Grass Prairie portion of the Prairies Ecozone. The Prairies are an area that is dominated by grasses and herbaceous plants. The Tall Grass Prairie is dominated by taller species of grass such as Big Bluestem. Forest types such as Aspen Forest, Oak Forest and Riverbottom Forest are also common around Winnipeg. The rivers which run through Winnipeg have helped to shape the landscape and influence the plants and animals that live here. Winnipeg is found within the Red River Valley where the Assiniboine River flows into the Red. The Red River Valley has a finely textured rich black soil, also known as Chernozemic soil, which is mainly composed of Red River clay sediment deposit. Although the landscape has fairly good surface drainage it has slow internal drainage that creates random small depressional wetlands such as sloughs, ponds and marshes. The soil is high in organic matter from the plant litter created each year that the prairie grasses covered the land. This combined with the soil's good moisture holding capacity gives it high productivity for agriculture.

Manitoba Ecozones, Manitoba Conservation Manitoba Tall Grass Prairie, Living Prairie Museum
Manitoba Ecozones (credit Manitoba Conservation) Manitoba Tall Grass Prairie (credit Living Prairie Museum)

Climate is one of the major influences affecting the natural communities in Winnipeg and the surrounding area. Winnipeg has a continental climate with cold winters and hot summers. The temperatures in winter average -10.5 °C while the average for summer is 15°C. Extreme high temperatures of 40°C and lows of -45°C are possible. Precipitation averages 514 mm. The effect of this climate means that plants and animals must be adapted to high and low temperature extremes, and must be able to survive in adverse conditions. The precipitation is higher than many other areas in the Prairies Ecozone. These higher levels of precipitation are what makes it possible for the species of the Tall Grass Prairie to survive here.

Goldenrod, City of Winnipeg Naturalist Services Branch

Dominant tall grasses such as big bluestem and spear grass, and a colourful array of wildflowers such as aster, goldenrod, prairie crocus and lady's-slipper all survive in the Tall Grass Prairie. Native plant species have extensive root systems to assist them in reaching water and nutrients within the soil. These root systems can survive for many years, each year sending forth their new growth above the ground in Spring.

The plant communities also have a dramatic effect on animal species present in the area. In the past Bison, Antelope, Mule Deer, Grizzly Bears and Wolves were all common around the area that has become Winnipeg. As the landscape has changed these animals are no longer found wandering the plains around Winnipeg. With the spread of agriculture into the region the restriction on prairie wild fires there has been an increase in the small tree bluffs located around the area. This transition has made it an ideal habitat for species such as Whitetail Deer that once only lived further to the southeast. However, some of the smaller animals from the Tall Grass Prairie can still be found around Winnipeg. There are Richardson's ground squirrel, white-tailed jackrabbit, Red fox and Woodchucks just to name a few. Some bird species include a variety of hawks such as ferrunginous and Swainson's, owls such as great horned and screech and other migratory waterfowl such as Canada geese and mallards.

Last update: March 5, 2020
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