Mountain Habitats

Bogs and associated wetlands

This habitat type is a complex of multiple natural communities found throughout the western portion of the state.  These include: swamp forest-bog complex, Southern Appalachian bog, Southern Appalachian fen, Hillside seepage bog, high elevation seep, and meadow bogs.  In addition, these wetlands can be contained in landscapes of montane/piedmont alluvial forest and contain floodplain pool communities (Schafale and Weakley 1990). Learn more...

Caves and mines

Caves are found scattered across the Southern Blue Ridge physiographic province, and some do occur in other regions of the state. While there are several different types of caves, the most common types found in North Carolina are solution caves, fissure caves, and rock shelter/boulder caves. These types differ primarily in the way they are formed.  Solution caves are created by the action of water, dissolving the underlying rock to form tunnels.  Over time, solution caves get larger and larger and are generally the most extensive (size and length of passage). Learn more...

Cove Forest 

Montane cove forest occurs in low to mid-elevation sites in moist, protected areas.  Coves are generally stable, uneven-aged climax forest, characterized by a dense tree canopy.  Other plant community classification systems refer to cove forests as mixed mesophytic hardwoods (SAMAB 1996) or differentiate between acidic coves and rich (circumneutral soils) coves (Schafale and Weakley 1990).  Common tree species may include: yellow poplar, sugar maple, yellow buckeye, basswood, beech, black cherry, white ash, red maple, hemlock, black birch, umbrella tree, fraser magnolia, and northern red oak.  Generally, rich coves have a relatively open midstory with a dense herb layer of ferns and numerous herbaceous plants, and acidic coves have a dense midstory, often comprised of rhododendron and dog hobble, with a sparse herbaceous layer.  Canopy gap dynamics play a large role in regeneration (NCNHP 2001). Learn more...

Dry coniferous woodlands (Loblolly/ slash pine forest)

This habitat type occurs on sites that are dryer than most mountain sites, including ridgetops, spur ridges, and along steep slopes, generally in the low to middle elevations below 3,500 feet on southern or western aspects.  These sites contain shallow, often extremely acidic soils.  Dry coniferous woodlands are variously referred to or include ecological communities such as pine-oak heath (Schafale and Weakley 1990) and southern yellow pine (Hunter et al. 1999, SAMAB 1996).  Typically, lower elevation sites are dominated by Virginia or pitch pine, which is replaced near 3,000 feet with dominance by table mountain pine.  Canopy species may include table mountain pine, pitch pine, Virginia pine, chestnut oak, Carolina hemlock, or white pine. Learn more...

Early successional

By their nature, early succession habitats are ephemeral and will have a limited longevity without repeated disturbance.  The habitat structure changes as succession progresses, and many wildlife and plant species are adapted to different stages within the early succession continuum, from bare earth through pole-stage woodland.  Managing for species dependent upon early succession habitats presents several management challenges, including the need to identify which successional stage is most appropriate for the species or assemblage of interest and the need for repeated management actions to maintain suitable habitat.  Learn more...

Floodplain Forests

Floodplain forests of the Southern Blue Ridge mountains in western North Carolina are ecologically rich and diverse.  Montane floodplain forests are relatively narrow and do not contain well-developed levees, sloughs and ridges.  They are generally restricted to larger streams and rivers with relatively low gradients, since smaller, high gradient streams often do not have representative floodplains, but instead have riparian zones embedded within other habitat types. They are subject to sporadic high-intensity flood events of short duration. The most common ecological communities associated with floodplain forest in the mountain region are montane alluvial forest and piedmont/low mountain alluvial forest.  However, floodplain forests of the mountains often contain small amounts or isolated patches of swamp forest, swamp forest-bog, floodplain pools and semipermanent impoundments (Schafale and Weakley 1990). Learn more...

High Elevation Rock Outcrops

Rock outcrops are quite variable in terms of both geological and ecological condition due to unique geology, geography, elevation, moisture, and landscape position at each location.  They may contain discreet communities or they may be dispersed among a variety of other community types that are connected through local geology and landscape conditions.  As such, the extent of habitat that each rock outcrop provides is dependent upon the entire set of conditions in and surrounding the surface rock. Those conditions influence its use by plants and animals dependent upon the surface rock and may include significant amounts of adjacent ecological community types. Learn more...

Low Elevation Cliffs

Rock outcrops are quite variable in terms of both geological and ecological condition due to unique geology, geography, elevation, moisture, and landscape position at each location.  They may contain discreet communities or they may be dispersed among a variety of other community types that are connected through local geology and landscape conditions.  As such, the extent of habitat that each rock outcrop provides is dependent upon the entire set of conditions in and surrounding the surface rock. Those conditions influence its use by plants and animals dependent upon the surface rock and may include significant amounts of adjacent ecological community types. Learn more...

Northern Hardwoods

Northern hardwood forests are found on high elevation sites (generally above 4,000 feet, but more often above 4,500 feet) with abundant rainfall and a cool climate throughout western North Carolina.  High elevation climate, slope, aspect and past disturbance are critical ecological determinants of the distribution of northern hardwood forests today.  Learn more...

Oak Forest

Oak dominated forest is the most widespread and heterogenous habitat of the mountain region of North Carolina, and throughout the Southern Blue Ridge ecoregion on relatively dry slopes and ridges.  This habitat is a complex mix of numerous ecological community types including:  high elevation red oak, montane white oak, chestnut oak, montane oak-hickory, dry oak-hickory, dry-mesic oak-hickory, basic oak-hickory, pine-oak heath, and mesic mixed hardwood (Schafale and Weakley 1990).  Other classification systems differentiate this habitat into categories such as oak-dominated forests and mixed pine-hardwood forests (Hunter et al. 1999). Learn more...

Rivervine Aquatic Communities

Riverine aquatic habitat encompasses the vast array of mountain rivers and streams, from headwater seeps and springs through major waterways, including impoundments upon those waterways.  Montane riverine habitats are important for a number of reptiles and amphibians including certain turtles, frogs, and salamanders that utilize aquatic habitats during part or all of their life cycle.  Selected bird species also rely upon aquatic habitats including rivers and streams to provide habitat or a food base, such as various waterfowl, wading birds such as the green heron, and certain songbirds like the Louisiana waterthrush.  These habitats are also important for a variety of mammals that are semi-aquatic and/or that have an aquatic food base, including water shrews, muskrats, beavers, river otters, and bats that may forage for insects over water, such as the gray bat. Learn more...

Spruce Fir Forest

Spruce-fir forests occur on high mountaintops in western North Carolina, generally above 4,500 feet in elevation.  These forests are considered Pleistocene relicts that have become isolated from boreal forests of the northern United States and Canada.  Many of the species of plants and animals found in this community type are more common further north and have either evolved here, isolated from their northern cousins or remain in small areas where elevation provides similar conditions to more northern latitudes.  Spruce-fir forests are often comprised of components of northern hardwood and northern red oak forests mixed with red spruce at elevations from about 4,500 feet to 5,500 feet, with spruce becoming dominant, followed by Fraser fir dominance above 6,000 feet. Learn more...

N.C. River Basins Map


North Carolina River Basins
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Click here for more information about N.C. River Basins
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N.C. Ecoregions Map