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Field Guide: The Annapolis Valley Sand Barrens



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The terms ‘heathland’, ‘barren’, and ‘plain’ are often used interchangeably. ‘Barren’ refers to a landscape being sparsely treed and covered in low lying shrubs, similar to ‘plain’. ‘Heathland’ refers to a landscape covered specifically by ‘heaths’ or shrubs of the Heather Family (Ericaceae). No matter the name, these ecosystems often have low nutrient, acidic soils and are dominated by shrubs. Many also experience periodic disturbances from fire. These ecosystems can be found across the globe, including here in Nova Scotia.

The term ‘barren’ may elicit the image of a desolate and unproductive landscape.

On the contrary, the unique and extreme qualities of these barrens or heathland ecosystems can provide strong evolutionary forces. Species must specialize to survive, bringing about unique characteristics. This can lead to such ecosystems, such as the North American Coastal Plain, becoming hotspots for biodiversity.

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