Compared to regions further south, the boreal forest does not boast a large diversity of terrestrial mammals. The mammals that do make their home in the woodlands of the northwest are well adapted to do so, and tend to possess several general characteristics that enhance their survival capability: extensive habitat range, larger body size with smaller extremities, and an adaptable reproductive cycle.
Many species of mammals of the boreal forest tend to have wide ranges in terms of their distribution. These are the types of animals that seem to be able to live almost anywhere. They are quite sensitive to changes in environmental conditions, and have the ability to adapt their own behaviors accordingly. Beaver, muskrat, and wolf are all examples of boreal forest mammalian species that can be found in a very wide range of North American ecosystems.
Mammals of the northwest tend to get larger as one moves north. This is primarily a heat conservation adaptation. Larger animals tend to lose heat less rapidly than smaller ones. Moose, the largest member of the deer family, is one boreal forest resident that demonstrates the idea of larger body size. Another general tendency with northern mammal bodies is that as the bodies get bigger, the extremities, like snouts and tails, tend to get smaller. Again, this is to conserve heat. Longer extremities require a greater biological effort to keep warm, so northern mammals, in general, have shorter extremities to allow for more efficient heat distribution throughout their bodies.
Still another general tendency among northern mammals is their adaptable reproductive cycle. In years when food resources are plentiful, northern animals will tend to produce larger numbers of offspring. When food resources are scarce, northern mammals will produce fewer or no offspring. Such animals can also reproduce during winter so long as food conditions are favourable.
There are always exceptions to the rules, of course. Not every northern mammal conforms to the generalities stated above. Indeed, there are a great many mammals that seem to get along with only a few or none of the adaptations suggested above. What is common to the mammals of the boreal forest is that they have each found a way to survive the long winters and short growing seasons of the north. Traditional Aboriginal hunters and trappers depended on mammals for fur and food. Fur and hide was a source of clothing and also of income, especially in the days when fur trading was still a strong industry. The primary food source for the peoples of the northwest was from the meat of mammals. Proper nutrition demanded that every part of the animal that could be eaten would be. Knowledge of how to draw a number of useful products from mammals ensured survival in the north.
Featured Video: Animal Hide Preparation and Use The Heritage Community Foundation, with the kind permission of Terry Garvin, is pleased to present this feature excerpt from the Bush Land People video.
Raw hides taken from animals can be refined and applied to a great number of uses.