An Artificial Ecosystem

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

July 26th, 2001

Right in the middle of Montreal, Quebec lies a most unusual structure. Reaching up into the skyline, biodome looks like something right out of a science fiction and in a way it might be. At least the science side of it. Built in 1992, it is definitely the place to see for anyone who finds an interest in the environment. This huge dome- shaped building covers 4 distinct ecosystems. Although we normally traveled on the subway (Metro), which has a stop at the biodome, we had chosen to take our truck. The walk from the parking lot was as far as from the tram station. Having skipped lunch, I applied years of tracking the most dangerous animal in the world, and correctly reading the signs along the trail, I led my delightful wife to the succulent reward at the restaurant inside. With hunger eliminated, we ventured into the Biodome's first ecosystem, the rainforest. Here both the temperature and humidity were high. I was told that this part is tremendously popular during the cold Quebec winters. The idea of an ecosystem is to balance both plants and animals in such a manner as they can survive with a minimum amount of assistance. We wandered along level paths slightly elevated, that meandered through the room allowing us to watch life as it would be in this type of world. Cleverly constructed natural barriers prevented predator from actually finding prey. In tropical forests, competition is particularly fierce but each life form has it place. The Tropical forest is the Earth's most diverse ecosystem and is home to hundreds of different species, each of which must find food, reproduce, and protect itself. For the inhabitants of the tropical rainforests, the law of the jungle means finding ways to thrive and survive. The creature I found most interesting in this room was the poison-arrow Frogs. This character make no attempt to blend into the rainforest, leaping about aggressively, and displaying his brilliant colors. The male cries out continuously, perched conspicuously for all to see. Potential predators are thus alerted to the species' presence and are careful not to attack the brightly colored reptile who, of course, is poisonous. Although the tropical rainforests of the Americas, Africa and Asia account for only 7% of the world's surface area, they are home to over half, and perhaps even two-thirds, of all known animal and plant species. Unfortunately, these forests are constantly shrinking, at alarming speed. The Tropical Forest at the Biodome, a reproduction of a tropical rainforest in South America, alerts visitors to the extraordinary biological diversity of these ecosystems and to their terrible vulnerability. The Biodome Tropical Forest, measuring 2,600 mē and populated by thousands of plants and animals, is the largest of the four ecosystems.
The next ecosystem was separated by double doors to control the change in temperature. This room was a reproduction of one of the most beautiful forests in Quebec. The Biodome's Laurentian Forest consists of hardwoods, including the Sugar Maple and American Beech, and conifers such as the Fir and White Spruce. You can see a variety of land and aquatic habitats dotting its 1,518 square meters, whose denizens are often most active at night. One of its inhabitants passed by as we watched. At first unnoticed, as he blended quite nicely in his surroundings and then he moved just enough for us to find him. This lynx was an extra treat as he rarely is so photogenic. Just as in nature, changes in temperature and light cause plants to become dormant toward the end of the summer. The leaves change color and drop off in the fall, and in the spring, the cycle starts again as plants sprout anew. In fact, spring actually comes slightly ahead of time in the Biodome's Laurentian Forest.
The next
ecosystem was the St. Lawrence River. The main attraction here is an enormous 1620 square meter pool teeming with fish, plants and life of all sorts. It takes some 2.5 million liters of sea water, which is produced right on the property to fill the lake. It is demonstrated in a multitude of different levels to allow for the different kinds of life and to bring out the various colors of the deep and not so deep.
The final ecosystem was the cold and frigid worlds of the polar caps at the two extremities of the Earth. To the north of North America lies an ice-covered ocean, the Arctic. To the south of South America is an ice-covered continent, Antarctic. In both hemispheres, ice meets open water at latitudes of between 50° and 60°, creating suitable conditions for bird colonies. It is these subpolar regions that are represented at the Biodome, in a "twin"
ecosystem measuring 617 square meters. Because they are at opposite ends of the globe, the seasons in the two ecosystems are always reversed. When winter rules in one, it is summer in the other. The subarctic exhibit represents a rocky stretch of Labrador coastline, populated by puffins and other alcids. The subantarctic exhibit turns the spotlight on penguin country in the southern hemisphere. You can observe the birds from a glassed-in corridor that protects you from the rigors of the two climates. There are daily feedings of the birds which are a joy to watch as the little creatures line up, as if on cue, and receive their portion of the meal. In considering the adventure as a whole, I thought it was extremely well done. I can only imagine the time, effort and manpower it takes to maintain this habitat in its pristine condition. The plants and animals, although not impressive in number were interesting in that they did represent what you might find if you took a walk in such a place.

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