Middle Atlantic coastal forests
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|Middle Atlantic coastal forests|
|Biome||Temperate coniferous forest|
|Borders||Southeastern conifer forests, Southeastern mixed forests and Northeastern coastal forests|
|Area||133,600 km2 (51,600 sq mi)|
|States||New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia|
The Middle Atlantic coastal forests are a temperate coniferous forest mixed with patches of evergreen broadleaved forests (closer to the Atlantic coast) along the coast of the southeastern United States.
The Middle Atlantic coastal forests stretch along the Atlantic coast of the United States from extreme Southern New Jersey south to the Georgia coast. They cover the lower Atlantic coastal plain and are bordered on the west by the Southeastern mixed forests.
The habitats of the ecoregion are constantly modified by natural processes. The bottomlands, coastal plains, and maritime areas are vulnerable to tropical cyclones and floods. The drier areas with porous sandy soils are susceptible to fires and drought. Fire return intervals of 1 to 3 years favor herbaceous plants; longer intervals favor dense shrubs, to broadleaved evergreen trees.
This ecoregion has a humid subtropical climate with hot summers and mild winters, and with the heaviest precipitation concentrated in the warmest months.
Two basic types of forests are found in this region; 1) Southern mixed pine-oak forests that see frequent fire with sandy soils, and 2) isolated patches of evergreen broadleaved forests and "hammocks" close to the Atlantic coastline in the southernmost areas in coastal South Carolina and coastal Georgia.
The mixed pine-oak 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, hardwoods 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).
Evergreen broadleaved forests occur close to the coast in localized areas as either evergreen Maritime oak forests or as more localized evergreen hammocks(geographically induced forest islands) (Box 1985). These forests consist of evergreen broadleaved canopy trees, such as Magnolia grandiflora, Magnolia virginiana, Persea borbonia, Gordonia lasianthus, Sabal, and several evergreen oaks such as Quercus myrtifolia, and the iconic Quercus virginiana or southern Live Oak often covered with Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides). The understory is also often evergreen in these forests, with Myrica cerifera and Osmanthus americanus very common, while several evergreen species of Ericaceae, Ilex, and scrub palms (Sabal minor and Serenoa) are common on more moist sites. In the open areas near sandy beaches and coastal areas, large endemic populations of Yucca and cactus (Opuntia) thrive in the hot sun and sandy soils.
The Middle Atlantic coastal forests contain the most diverse assemblage of freshwater wetland communities in North America. These include freshwater marshes, shrub bogs, white cedar swamps, bayheads, and wet hammocks.
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), willow oak (Quercus phellos), and overcup oak (Quercus lyrata). Swamp hickory (Carya glabra) and water hickory (Carya aquatica) are also found here. Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) grows in the understory.
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 abundant arthropods, produce mast that sustains migratory birds during the winter, and produce boles, branch cavities, and rotting logs that support various detritivores and hole-nesting species. In the extreme southeast regions (coastal southeast North Carolina south to Georgia) the large American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) can be found along tidal inlets and marsh areas.
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.
The least altered habitats in the ecoregion are the coastal marshes and deep peatlands.
Remaining intact habitat
- Francis Marion National Forest
- Brunswick County Pinelands
- Holly Shelter Gamelands
- Croatan National Forest
- Congaree National Park
- Outer Banks
- Pamlimarle Peninsula
- Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Southern Delaware
- Roanoke River in southwestern Virginia
- Sandhills Gameland in northeastern South Carolina
- Sandhill National Wildlife Refuge
- Great Dismal Swamp
- Great Cypress Swamp on the Delmarva Peninsula
- Assateague Island
- Virginia Coast Reserve
- Cape Romain
- Fort Bragg
- Fort Jackson (South Carolina)
- Fort Stewart
- Cape May National Wildlife Refuge in Southeastern New Jersey
- Hoekstra, J. M.; Molnar, J. L.; Jennings, M.; Revenga, C.; Spalding, M. D.; Boucher, T. M.; Robertson, J. C.; Heibel, T. J.; Ellison, K. (2010). Molnar, J. L., ed. The Atlas of Global Conservation: Changes, Challenges, and Opportunities to Make a Difference. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-26256-0. Archived from the original on 2013-04-04.
- "Middle Atlantic coastal forests". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund.
- Kricher, John; Morrison, Gordon (1998). Eastern Forests: A field guide to birds, mammals, trees, flowers, and more. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-395-92895-0.