Species Profile

Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster

Scientific Name: Symphyotrichum laurentianum
Other/Previous Names: Aster laurentianus
Taxonomy Group: Vascular Plants
COSEWIC Range: Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: May 2004
COSEWIC Status: Threatened
COSEWIC Status Criteria: D2
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: An annual halophyte of maritime littoral habitats endemic to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It is found at nearly 30 extant sites with some very large populations, especially on the Magdalen Islands, but has a very small total area of occupancy of much less than five square kilometres. Many of the populations are subject to natural fluctuations in size and at times suffer important losses due to severe storm events. On-going impacts also exist from human recreational activities and losses of habitat due to development activities.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Special Concern in April 1989. Status re-examined and designated Threatened in May 2004.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2005-07-14

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Taxonomy | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster

Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster Photo 1

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Taxonomy

The scientific name of the Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster is Symphyotrichum laurentianum, which is a synonym of Aster laurentianus.

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Description

The Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster is a fleshy annual plant. The stem of this herbaceous plant measures between 0.1 and 40 cm in height and it can be simple or divided into several clusters of branches or, occasionally, of elongated branches. The leaves are very soft, fleshy and smooth. The leaves emerge directly from the stem and measure 1.1 to 6.5 cm in length by 2 to 9.8 mm in width. The contour is whole and the leaves can vary in shape from an elongated, narrow lance to a spatula. The tip of the leaves is more or less rounded and often ends abruptly in a short stiff point. Flowers are grouped in a single flower head, or capitate, giving them the appearance of a single flower. Each ramification of the stem bears a head measuring 0.5 to 1.4 cm in width. The flowers are surrounded by small green leaves, called bracts, joined in a bell-shaped receptacle at the base of the head. These bracts are longer than they are wide. They are rounded at both ends and are shaped like either a lance or spatula. The majority are fleshy and often have small marginal hairs, or cilia, at the base. They measure 5 to 11 mm in length and 1 to 2.5 mm in width. The flowers range from a whitish to a pinkish colour and they are both fertile and thread-shaped. The flowers outside of the head are arranged in several rows and measure 2 to 5 mm in length. The centre of the head contains few flowers, which measure 3 to 5.4 mm in length. The broad part of the petals is bell-shaped and lined with 4 or 5 fairly similar small teeth near the purplish heart of the flower. The Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster produces dry fruits, called achenes, which are covered with small fine hairs. The achenes are topped with many aigrets, or silky tufts equalling or overtopping the flowers.

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Distribution and Population

The presence of the Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster is limited to the Gulf of St. Lawrence region. This species is found only in Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. There are a total of 29 known populations: 15 in the Magdalen Islands archipelago (Quebec), 8 on Prince Edward Island and 6 in New Brunswick. In addition to these existing populations, there were formerly four historical occurrences. In these sites, the habitats have been destroyed or specimens have not been observed in 25 years; one site was in the Magdalen Islands, two in Prince Edward Island and one in New Brunswick. In Quebec, this species has been observed only in the Magdalen Islands. The specimens observed in the archipelago are virtually all located in three sites: the Havre aux Basques lagoon, the Bassin aux Huîtres and the Barachois salt marsh at Fatima. In New Brunswick, there are six populations at four sites: Miscou Island (south Malbaie), Tracadie region (Val-Comeau), Kouchibouguac National Park and the dune at Bouctouche. Most of the eight populations on Prince Edward Island were observed in the Prince Edward Island National Park. In 2002, the New Brunswick populations totalled 2000 to 3000 individuals, which represents a decline compared to past years. The population decline observed in this province is mainly due to storms. Prior to the 1995 surveys, the Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster was considered particularly rare in Prince Edward Island, where a total of only 23 plants had been observed. We now know that the eight current areas of occurrence likely contain over 40 000 individuals. The Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster occurs relatively frequently in the Magdalen Islands. In 2002, the total population was estimated to be in excess of 12 million individuals spread over an area of slightly less than 10 ha. The significant increase in the number of individuals observed throughout the Magdalen Islands and Prince Edward Island during the last surveys may be due to the intensification of survey efforts between 1992 and 2001. It is also possible that particularly favourable conditions stimulated the growth of massive Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster colonies, particularly in the Magdalen Islands. For instance, the exceptionally dry conditions during the summer of 1994 may have caused the upper portions of the marshes to dry out more than usual, which created favourable conditions for this species. While the total population appears to be generally stable, there have been recent declines or even disappearances of certain populations, which may be due to the closure of the vegetation cover, coverage by organic debris or burial under sand following storms or human activity. Since natural phenomena such as waves and storms strip the habitat on a more or less cyclical basis, the disappearance of these subpopulations may be temporary.

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Habitat

All known Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster populations occur in coastal habitats such as beaches, lagoons, dunes, dune slacks and dry stretches of salt marshes. This annual grows in moist, mostly sandy soil where flooding only occurs during extremely high tides and storms. It grows in slightly sloped, open terrain near sea level in areas where the dunes provide a fair degree of shelter from the wind.

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Biology

The Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster flowers from late August to early September. Fruits develop in late September and they are dispersed by wind and water in late October. This is a self-fertile species, which means that the Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster can reproduce on its own without any contribution from neighbouring plants. The Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster requires full sun for growth. Competition with other species for this resource appears to play a significant part in the dynamics of these populations. Any reduction in the available light has a major impact on distribution throughout a given site. Soil salinity and dryness have a significant inhibiting effect on seed germination and plant growth. Since seeds can probably survive for a decade, they may remain in the soil until conditions are favourable.

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Threats

Competition with other species plays a major role in the dynamics of Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster populations. The reduction of available light due to an increase in plant cover is among the main factors that influence its growth. In addition, natural disturbances caused by waves, ice and storms play a major role in habitat maintenance. In particular, fluctuations in high-tide levels can flood populations and storms can bury them completely in sand, causing their disappearance. In addition, disturbances caused by man, such as the construction of cottages and backfilling operations, completely destroy this species’ habitat. Although several sites currently enjoy a certain protection, past disturbances of this type have resulted in the loss of at least two sites. All-terrain vehicles may have a positive impact, at least temporarily, since they create openings in the plant cover. However, the long-term impact of these disturbances will depend on the extent of the immediate damage to plants and their habitat, and on the future potential for major erosion.

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

In Quebec, all sites where the Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster is found are under provincial jurisdiction, since beaches are the responsibility of the Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et des Parcs, and dunes and dune slacks are the responsibility of the Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune. Most of the sites on Prince Edward Island are in Prince Edward Island National Park. As for the Tignish site, the wet sand marsh is on littoral land, which is under provincial jurisdiction. In New Brunswick, there is a Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster population in Kouchibouguac National Park. Two other sites are on land with multiple owners, including the government. Although the Bouctouche site is in a conservation management area, it is nonetheless on private land.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster (Symphyotrichum laurentianum) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry

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Recovery Team

Contact Person for Recovery Planning

  • Québec: Unité de planification de la conservation - Service canadien de la faune - Chair/Contact -
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Recovery Progress and Activities

Summary of Progress to Date Of the 16 populations inventoried to date, three have disappeared while no individual has been observed in the past two years in four other populations. Thus, nine populations subsist, most of them are small. It is important however to specify that since the Gulf of St. Laurence Aster is an annual plant, its numbers vary considerably from year to year due to anthropogenic or natural disturbances. Summary of Research and Monitoring Activities Seeds collected at a seed bank on Miscou Island (New Brunswick) are being cultivated and tested for viability and longevity in a greenhouse. Some seeds from the bank are also being planted outside the greenhouse to verify if they will produce viable seeds in return and to find out if they will germinate in nature. Many surveys have been conducted since 1988 and the results indicate a high temporal variation, both in the number of individuals and the area occupied. Since these studies were conducted by different teams using separate methodologies, a standardized information gathering protocol was developed and implemented in 2004, which will allow a standardized long-term follow-up essential to understanding the species situation. The species introduction to sites that are apparently favourable but unoccupied has produced mixed results. Indeed, even though seeds have germinated and seedlings have emerged, no fruit has been produced. Since the Gulf of St. Laurence Aster is an annual species, new site colonization seems to be limited by fructification aspects. Summary of Recovery Activities The persons in charge of the Coastwatch Program in the Acadian Peninsula are working with other organizations to promote appropriate use of the vulnerable coastal habitat. Local schools are receiving interpretation and educational documentation to increase coastal species at risk awareness and promote stewardship measures. Local landowners and special interest groups are being contacted to increase participation in species protection. Three floristic habitats were established under the Act respecting threatened or vulnerable species in 2005, while two other populations are protected through a wildlife refuge. The restoration efforts will have to ensure the ecological integrity of these habitats through the application of regulatory measures governing the use of the sites. To this effect, the municipalities, the protected area managers and the Attention Frag’Îles organization involvement will be conclusive. Part of the seedstock of the Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster is transferred to permanent storage (e.g. Acadia University facilities) for a long-term protection. URLs Canadian biodiversity: Endangered species – Gulf of St. Lawrence Asterhttp://www.canadianbiodiversity.mcgill.ca/english/species/endangered/endangeredpages/ast_lau.htmParks Canada Agency: Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada:http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/nb/kouchibouguac/natcul/natcul1c_e.aspPlantes menacées ou vulnérables au Québechttp://www.mddep.gouv.qc.ca/biodiversite/especes/aster-stlaurent/aster.htm (available in French only)

Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

13 record(s) found.

Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Gulf of St. Lawrence aster Symphyotrichum laurentianum in Canada (2004-05-01)

    Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster, Symphyotrichum laurentianum (synonym: Aster laurentianus), is a halophytic, herbaceous annual that occurs in coastal habitats in New Brunswick (NB), Prince Edward Island (PE) and the Magdalen Islands (MI). It is a rare endemic of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Twenty-nine populations are known and verified, including 15 in the MI, eight in PEI and six in NB. Apart from these, there are four historical occurrences, whose habitat has been destroyed or that have not been seen for more than 25 years (one in the MI, two in PEI and one in NB).

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster (2004-10-22)

    An annual halophyte of maritime littoral habitats endemic to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It is found at nearly 30 extant sites with some very large populations, especially on the Magdalen Islands, but has a very small total area of occupancy of much less than five square kilometres. Many of the populations are subject to natural fluctuations in size and at times suffer important losses due to severe storm events. On-going impacts also exist from human recreational activities and losses of habitat due to development activities.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster (Symphyotrichum laurentianum) in Canada (2012-10-23)

    Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster is an annual facultative halophyte endemic to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The species was assessed as Threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada in 2004 and was listed accordingly in Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act in 2005. The Minister of the Environment and the Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency are the competent ministers for the recovery of the Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster and have prepared this strategy, as per section 37 of SARA. It has been prepared in cooperation with the governments of Québec (Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et des Parcs), New Brunswick (Department of Natural Resources) and Prince Edward Island (Ministry of Environment, Energy and Forestry) as per section 39 (1) of SARA.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada and associated National Historic Sites of Canada (2016-11-22)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada and associated National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the four sites: Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada (KNP) and other land managed by Parks Canada in the Northern New-Brunswick Field Unit offering adequate habitat for the species targeted in this action plan (Fort Beauséjour – Fort Cumberland National Historic Site of Canada (NHS), Beaubassin – Fort Lawrence NHS, Grand-Pré NHS). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA) (s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in KNP and associated NHS.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Prince Edward Island National Park of Canada (2016-11-22)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Prince Edward Island National Park of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the gazette boundaries of Prince Edward Island National Park (PEINP), as well as, Crown lands located adjacent to the park that are owned and administered by Parks Canada, including Greenwich.. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan, and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at PEINP and on associated federal lands.

Orders

  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (2004-10-19)

    The Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of the assessments of the status of wildlife species done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
  • Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 139, number 15, 2005) (2005-07-27)

    The Minister of the Environment is recommending, pursuant to section 27 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), that 43 species be added to Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. This recommendation is based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and on consultations with governments, Aboriginal peoples, wildlife management boards, stakeholders and the Canadian public.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2004 (2004-09-16)

    2004 Annual Report to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Permits and Related Agreements

  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PEINP-2007-1281), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2007-08-07)

    This research project will determine the intra- and inter-genetic variability of 3 populations of St. Lawrence Aster (SLA). Recovery plans for this threatened species will likely involve re-establishment of field populations from greenhouse stock given that SLA greenhouse stock can easily be established from seed collections (Kemp and Lacroix, 2004; Lacroix 2007, pers comm.). Unfortunately, little is currently known about the population genetics of SLA. This represents a major roadblock to the design and execution of an effective management plan, particularly one which involves re-introduction. For example, we do not know whether NB, PEI, and QC populations are genetically distinct and perhaps locally adapted, nor do we know whether SLA populations are genetically diverse or impoverished compared with other threatened plant species. Therefore, in an effort to assess the genetic diversity of SLA, plant samples (leaves-one per plant-maximum of 50 plants per population) will be collected in Prince Edward Island and Kouchibouguac National Parks of Canada. This effort will enable us to establish an effective and thorough recovery strategy for the SLA.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PEINP-2014-18367), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2014-10-31)

    Every 1-2 years Parks Canada Resource Conservation staff from Prince Edward Island National Park of Canada will transplant approximatley150 Gulf of St. Lawrence aster (Symphyotrichum laurentianum) grown in greenhouse facilities at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) to suitable habitat at Blooming Point. This activity is conducted in an attempt to maintain GSLA in the landscape and replenish the seed bank at Blooming point. Additionally, embedding Gulf of St. Lawrence aster (GSLA) greenhouse raised seed inflorescences in the soil at Blooming Point may be carried out in attempt to increase the viability of seed bank in the soil at Blooming Point. A small subset of seeds will be collected each year from plants that have naturally regenerated. These seeds will be collected and stored at UPEI using the seed banking protocol developed by UPEI (2014). A subsample of the seeds collected in 2014 will also be submitted for long term storage with the Plant Gene Resources of Canada and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault to preserve the DNA of these thriving individuals. Should wrack deposits be identified as a threat to GSLA germination, modification of coastal features bordering this salt marsh may be applied. The addition of coarse woody debris or fencing may be placed in near critical germination habitat to act as a barrier to wrack accumulation.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: November 2004 (2004-11-23)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.

Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette

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