The Middle Atlantic coastal forests
are a temperate coniferous forests
Temperate coniferous forest is a terrestrial biome found in temperate regions of the world with warm summers and cool winters and adequate rainfall to sustain a forest. In most temperate coniferous forests, evergreen conifers predominate, while some are a mix of conifers and broadleaf evergreen...
An ecoregion , sometimes called a bioregion, is an ecologically and geographically defined area that is smaller than an ecozone and larger than an ecosystem. Ecoregions cover relatively large areas of land or water, and contain characteristic, geographically distinct assemblages of natural...
of the United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...
The Middle Atlantic coastal forests stretch along the Atlantic
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...
coast of the United States from the Delmarva Peninsula
The Delmarva Peninsula is a large peninsula on the East Coast of the United States, occupied by most of Delaware and portions of Maryland and Virginia...
south to the Georgia
Georgia is a state located in the southeastern United States. It was established in 1732, the last of the original Thirteen Colonies. The state is named after King George II of Great Britain. Georgia was the fourth state to ratify the United States Constitution, on January 2, 1788...
coast. They cover the Atlantic coastal plain
The Atlantic coastal plain has both low elevation and low relief, but it is also a relatively flat landform extending from the New York Bight southward to a Georgia/Florida section of the Eastern Continental Divide, which demarcates the plain from the ACF River Basin in the Gulf Coastal Plain to...
and are bordered on the west by the Southeastern mixed forests
The Southeastern mixed forests are a temperate coniferous forests ecoregion of the United States.-Setting:This ecoregion covers the Piedmont of the eastern United States, stretching in a broad arc from Maryland southwest to Mississippi. It is distinguished from neighboring ecoregions by elevation...
The habitats of the ecoregion are constantly modified by natural processes. The bottomlands, coastal plains, and maritime areas are vulnerable to hurricanes and floods. The drier areas are susceptible to fires. Fire return intervals of 1 to 3 years favor herbaceous plant
A herbaceous plant is a plant that has leaves and stems that die down at the end of the growing season to the soil level. They have no persistent woody stem above ground...
s; longer intervals favor dense shrubs.
This ecoregion has a humid subtropical climate
A humid subtropical climate is a climate zone characterized by hot, humid summers and mild to cool winters...
with hot summers and significant precipitation in all seasons.
Southern mixed pine-oak forests are the characteristic forest community of this ecoregion. These forests occur on dry or sandy soils or in areas exposed to occasional fires. Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris
), superbly adapted to fire-prone environments, is the principal tree of these forests. Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda
) and shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata
) grow in sandy soils. On moist soils or where fires are infrequent, hardwood
Hardwood is wood from angiosperm trees . It may also be used for those trees themselves: these are usually broad-leaved; in temperate and boreal latitudes they are mostly deciduous, but in tropics and subtropics mostly evergreen.Hardwood contrasts with softwood...
s overtake the pines. These hardwoods include turkey oak (Quercus laevis
), post oak (Quercus stellata
), myrtle oak (Quercus myrtifolia
), Spanish oak (Quercus falcata
), and southern catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides
). On sandy soils, particularly near the coast and on coastal islands, live oak (Quercus virginiana
) thrives, often draped with Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides
). Common shrubs of these forests are saw palmetto (Serenoa repens
), southern bayberry (Myrica cerifera
Myrica cerifera is a small tree or large shrub native to North America. Its common names include Wax myrtle, Bayberry, Candleberry, Bayberry tree, and Tallow shrub...
), and Carolina holly (Ilex ambigua
Southern hardwood forests grow on moist sites. Spanish moss is abundant and is an indicator species
An indicator species is any biological species that defines a trait or characteristic of the environment. For example, a species may delineate an ecoregion or indicate an environmental condition such as a disease outbreak, pollution, species competition or climate change...
of this habitat. Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora
), an evergreen tree with tropical origins, grows here. Sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana
) and cucumbertree (Magnolia acuminata
) grow here as well. Other trees that grow here are common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana
Diospyros virginiana, commonly called the American persimmon, common persimmon, Eastern persimmon, "'simmon" and "possumwood", is a persimmon species known by a variety of names including. It ranges from New England to Florida, and west to Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Kansas...
), and Virginia live oak.
The Middle Atlantic coastal forests contain the most diverse assemblage of freshwater wetland communities in North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...
. These include freshwater marshes, shrub bogs, white cedar swamps, bayheads, and wet hammocks.
The bottomland hardwood forest
The Bottomland hardwood forest is a type of deciduous hardwood forest found in broad lowland floodplains along large rivers and lakes. They are occasionally flooded, which builds up the alluvial soils required for the Gum, Oak and Bald Cypress trees that typically grow in this type of biome...
s for which the ecoregion is famous are dominated by baldcypress (Taxodium distichum
Taxodium distichum is a species of conifer native to the southeastern United States.-Characteristics:...
) and swamp tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica
Baldcypress swamps are often dominated by their namesake tree, and are too wet for foot travel. Many uncommon orchids grow among the baldcypress branches.
Swamp tupelo, along with water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica
), dominate mixed-hardwood swamp forests. These grow aside water-adapted oaks that include water oak (Quercus nigra
), swamp chestnut oak (Quercus michauxii
), cherrybark oak (Quercus pagoda
Quercus pagoda, the Cherrybark oak, is one of the most highly valued red oaks in the southern United States. It is larger and better formed than southern red oak and commonly grows on more moist sites. Its strong wood and straight form make it an excellent timber tree...
), willow oak (Quercus phellos
), and overcup oak (Quercus lyrata
). Swamp hickory (Carya glabra
) and water hickory (Carya aquatica
Carya aquatica is a large tree, that can grow over 30 meters tall of the Juglandaceae or walnut family. In the American South it is a dominant plant species found on clay flats and backwater areas near streams and rivers. The species reproduces aggressively both by seed and sprouts from roots and...
) are also found here. Pawpaw (Asimina triloba
Asimina triloba, the pawpaw, paw paw, paw-paw, or common pawpaw, is a species of Asimina in the same plant family as the custard-apple, cherimoya, sweetsop, ylang-ylang and soursop...
) grows in the understory.
Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides
Chamaecyparis thyoides , is a species of Chamaecyparis, native to the Atlantic coast of North America from Maine south to Georgia, with a disjunct population on the Mexican Gulf coast from Florida to Mississippi...
) swamps occur along blackwater river
A blackwater river is a river with a deep, slow-moving channel that flows through forested swamps and wetlands. As vegetation decays in the water, tannins are leached out, resulting in transparent, acidic water that is darkly stained, resembling tea or coffee. Most major blackwater rivers are in...
Pocosin is a term for a type of palustrine wetland with deep, acidic, sandy, peat soils. Groundwater saturates the soil except during brief seasonal dry spells and during prolonged droughts...
s are flat and damp, sandy, or peaty areas far from streams. They have scattered pond pine (Pinus serotina
) and a dense growth of mostly evergreen shrubs including gallberry (Ilex glabra
Ilex glabra, also known as Appalachian Tea, Dye-leaves, Evergreen Winterberry, Gallberry, Inkberry, is a species of holly native to the Eastern and the South Central United States and southern Canada . This plant is often used as an ornamental plant...
Barrier islands, a coastal landform and a type of barrier system, are relatively narrow strips of sand that parallel the mainland coast. They usually occur in chains, consisting of anything from a few islands to more than a dozen...
s along the coast protect extensive estuaries, lagoons, and sounds.
Carolina bays are elliptical depressions concentrated along the Atlantic seaboard within coastal Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and northcentral Florida...
s are a unique habitat of the ecoregion.
The nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus
) is a distinctive animal that lives in this ecoregion. The Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana
) is abundant.
In the mixed pine-oak forests, the brown-headed nuthatch (Sitta pusilla
) feeds on pine seeds. The yellow-throated warbler (Dendroica dominica
) is widely distributed. The northern parula warbler (Parula americana
) and the eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis
) are also found here. The Bachman sparrow (Aimophila aestivalis
) and red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis
), both uncommon, also live in this ecoregion.
The bottomland forests support support abundant arthropods, produce mast
Mast is the "fruit of forest trees like acorns and other nuts". It is also defined as "the fruit of trees such as beech, and other forms of Cupuliferae". Alternatively, it can also refer to "a heap of nuts"....
that sustains migratory birds during the winter, and produce boles, branch cavities, and rotting logs that support various detritivore
Detritivores, also known as detritophages or detritus feeders or detritus eaters or saprophages, are heterotrophs that obtain nutrients by consuming detritus . By doing so, they contribute to decomposition and the nutrient cycles...
s and hole-nesting species.
Contemporary land use
The main causes of habitat conversion are agriculture, fire suppression, urbanization, coastal development, ditching and draining of wetlands, and damming of rivers.
The western part of the ecoregion has been most altered. There, the upland vegetation has been nearly completely converted.
Long-leaf pine (Pinus palustris
A savanna, or savannah, is a grassland ecosystem characterized by the trees being sufficiently small or widely spaced so that the canopy does not close. The open canopy allows sufficient light to reach the ground to support an unbroken herbaceous layer consisting primarily of C4 grasses.Some...
s have nearly disappeared.
The least altered habitats in the ecoregion are the coastal marshes and deep peatlands.
Remaining intact habitat
- Francis Marion National Forest
The Francis Marion National Forest is located north of Charleston, South Carolina. It is named for revolutionary war hero Francis Marion, who was known to the British as the Swamp Fox. It lies entirely within the Middle Atlantic coastal forests ecoregion....
- Brunswick County Pinelands
- Holly Shelter Gamelands
- Croatan National Forest
The Croatan National Forest is a U.S. National Forest, was established on July 29, 1936, and is located on the Atlantic coast of North Carolina. It is administered by the United States Forest Service, a part of the United States Department of Agriculture...
- Congaree National Park
Congaree National Park preserves the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. Located in South Carolina, the 26,546-acre national park received that designation in 2003 as the culmination of a grassroots campaign which had started in 1969...
- Outer Banks
The Outer Banks is a 200-mile long string of narrow barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, beginning in the southeastern corner of Virginia Beach on the east coast of the United States....
- Pamlimarle Peninsula
- Roanoke River
The Roanoke River is a river in southern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina in the United States, 410 mi long. A major river of the southeastern United States, it drains a largely rural area of the coastal plain from the eastern edge of the Appalachian Mountains southeast across the Piedmont...
in southwestern Virginia
- Sandhills Gameland in northeastern South Carolina
- Sandhill National Wildlife Refuge
- Great Dismal Swamp
The Great Dismal Swamp is a marshy area on the Coastal Plain Region of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina between Norfolk, Virginia, and Elizabeth City, North Carolina in the United States. It is located in parts of southern Chesapeake and Suffolk in Virginia, as well as northern...
- Assateague Island
Assateague Island is a long barrier island located off the eastern coast of Maryland and Virginia. It is best known for its herds of feral horses, pristine beaches, and the Assateague Lighthouse. The island also contains numerous marshes, bays and coves, including Toms Cove...
- Virginia coast reserve
The Virginia Coast Reserve is a biosphere reserve created by The Nature Conservancy in the early 1970s. It consists of 14 barrier islands along the Atlantic coast of the Virginia portion of the Delmarva Peninsula, including Parramore Island, Hog Island, Virginia, Smith Island, Virginia, Assawoman...
- Cape Romain
- Fort Bragg
Fort Bragg is a major United States Army installation, in Cumberland and Hoke counties, North Carolina, U.S., mostly in Fayetteville but also partly in the town of Spring Lake. It was also a census-designated place in the 2010 census and had a population of 39,457. The fort is named for Confederate...
- Fort Jackson (South Carolina)
- Fort Stewart
Fort Stewart is a census-designated place and U.S. Army post primarily in Liberty County and Bryan County, but also extending into smaller portions of Evans, Long, and Tattnall Counties in Georgia, USA. The population was 11,205 at the 2000 census...