Porsild’s Bryum, René Belland
Porsild’s Bryum © René Belland

A tiny gem hidden on a High Arctic island takes the spotlight


Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne
Director of Key Biodiversity Areas





In a steep gully at the head of a fiord on Ellesmere Island grows a moss that forms small brilliant green colonies that have a distinctive “sparkly” appearance.

It’s called Porsild's Bryum (Haplodontium macrocarpum or ijju nunami/
ᐃᔾᔪ ᓄᓇᒥ in Inuktitut). This moss is designated as "threatened" by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

The few locations where the moss can be found is within Quttinirpaaq National Park, which is the northernmost location currently known for it. Quttinirpaaq means “top of the world” in Inuktitut. Here the moss finds the moist conditions and fine sandy soils it needs to form its brilliant colonies.

“The importance of even the smallest and delicate organisms, like this moss, to maintaining biodiversity is undeniable. The designation of this site as a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) recognizes that importance,” says Darrin Reid, Resource Conservation Manager for Parks Canada, Nunavut. “Within a large protected area like Quttinirpaaq National Park, there are some very special places and thanks, in part, to the presence of Porsild's Bryum, this is one of them.”

“The rareness of this moss and its adaptation to high Arctic conditions here provided the impetus to recognize that this site deserves special conservation attention,” adds Reid. “With climate change and increased human visitation even in such a remote location adding to the challenges for these delicate organisms, we need to pay close attention to places like this.”

The fiord where the moss is found also contains many small cliffs and waterfalls within a sparsely vegetated landscape that is typical of Ellesmere’s cold, dry climate.

The KBA Canada program highlights sites that play an outsized role in maintaining globally and nationally significant biodiversity. To earn this designation, a site must meet strict scientific criteria. These include a site's importance for threatened species or ecosystems, seasonal concentrations of migratory animals, or being among the best examples of intact and healthy ecosystems.

Wildlife Conservation Society Canada (WCS Canada) put Quttinirpaaq National Park forward for KBA status, with support from Parks Canada.

Other notable species found in the area include Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus), Peary Caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi), Muskox (Ovibos moschatus), and Arctic Fox (Vulpes lagopus).

This location within Quttinirpaaq National Park is one of over three sites across Canada that have newly gained KBA status, as announced by KBA Canada this month.

A new Management Plan for Quttinirpaaq National Park was recently tabled and approved in the House of Commons. The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board (NWMB) approved this plan pursuant to the Nunavut Agreement Section 5.2.34c.

National Parks in Nunavut are jointly managed with Inuit and the Quttinirpaaq Joint Park Management Committee was in support of the Key Biodiversity Area designation and additional protection measures in the new Management Plan for Porsild’s Bryum.

See all sites: KBA Home (kbacanada.org)

About KBAs:

  • KBAs are sites that contribute to the persistence of biodiversity nationally and globally.

  • KBAs support rare and threatened species and ecosystems, as well as key natural processes. They range in size from small patches of habitat to large tracts of land or water.

  • KBAs are designated based on specific, measurable criteria.

  • The designation does not give the site a particular management prescription or legal status.

  • KBAs may encompass private or public land, sometimes overlapping, partially or entirely, with legally protected sites.

  • In Canada, KBAs are identified in consultation with local communities and experts.

About KBA Canada

  • Canada has one of the world’s first comprehensive national programs to identify KBAs and was the first country to adapt the Global KBA Standard to a national context.

  • The KBA Canada initiative was launched in 2019 to help Canada meet protected area targets and other targets agreed to in the Convention on Biological Diversity.

  • This work is led by the KBA Canada Coalition, a collaborative initiative involving non-governmental organizations, governments, Indigenous partners, academic institutions, experts, and knowledge-holders that are engaged in the work of identifying, delineating, and reviewing KBAs.

Key Biodiversity Areas

Key Biodiversity Areas

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Key Biodiversity Areas bring conservation close to home

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