Appalachian & Mixed Mesophytic Forests

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Rainforest ferns and mosses on trunks. Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park, Washington, USA.
© WWF / Fritz PÖLKING
This Global ecoregion is made up of 2 terrestrial ecoregions: Appalachian-Blue Ridge forests; Appalachian mixed mesophytic forests.

This relatively small ecoregion contains a remarkable convergence of forest habitats, thus supporting a tremendous diversity of species, especially rich in reptiles, amphibians, and birds. It is a single mountain range, one of the oldest on Earth, encompassing almost every forest type that occurs in the eastern half of North America, from mixed deciduous forests in the lowlands to spruce-fir forests, similar to boreal forests 1,000 miles to the north.

The Appalachian mountain range has remained geologically stable since the Paleozoic Era - more than 245 million years ago. More than 158 tree species can be found here, ranking this ecoregion among the highest in North America for plant diversity.

Size:
351,500 sq. km (135,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests

Geographic Location:
Eastern United States

Conservation Status:
Vulnerable

Local Species

This ecoregion is home to over 30 species of salamanders, predominantly within the Plethodontidae, including a number of endemics such as Black Mountain salamander (Desmognathus welten), Southern dusky salamander (D. auriculatus), Jordan's salamander (P. jordani), and Cheat Mountain salamander (P. nettingi).

Two reptiles - flattened musk turtle (Sternotherus depressus) and Alabama map turtle (Graptemys pulchra) are restricted to habitats in this ecoregion. Among the birds populating the diverse habitats are the black-throated green warbler (Dendroica virens), yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus), yellow-throated vireo (Vireo flavifrons), red-eyed vireo (V. olivaceus), black-throated blue warbler (Dendroica caerulescens), and Northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis).

Tree species include Tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), Red spruce (Picea rubens), numerous oak species (Quercus spp.), the endemic Fraser fir (Abies fraseri), Balsam fir (A. balsamea), and Allegheny plum (Prunus alleghaniensis). Mammals such as the fisher (Martes pennanti) also roam these forests.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / John S. MITCHELL
Northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis).
© WWF-Canon / John S. MITCHELL

Featured Species

The Alabama map turtle (Graptemys pulchra) is a medium to large size, with adult males measuring 9-13 cm and females slightly larger at 14-29 cm. This turtle is part of the broad head group of map turtles which derive their name from the pattern of yellow or cream colored markings on their head, neck and legs which look like the markings on a road map. It is mostly a crustacean (mollusk) eater, but will also eat insects and fish. It has a domed shell keel that is exaggerated as a hatchling and slowly wears down with age, especially in old females.

The Alabama map turtle lives in large sandy/muddy rivers as well as in rocky streams. Juveniles and males prefer brush piles along the sides of the river. Females prefer deeper water and tend to bask a little bit further out into the river. Basking tends to be on large stems of trees instead of small branches.

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Threats

Introduction of a non-native fungus has all but eliminated the once dominant American chestnut tree (Castanea dentata). A major threat to Appalachian-Blue Ridge forests is air pollution - a by-product of increased urban development and electric power generation, which can cause acid rain.

The introduction of exotic diseases and pests, such as gypsy moths, also poses a serious threat to portions of the habitat. More than 95% of Appalachian mixed mesophytic forests have been heavily degraded over the past 200 years. Only a few fragments of old-growth forest remain, most of which are only a few acres in size.

WWF’s work

WWF works within the United States to safeguard wildlife, fisheries, forests, and wetlands. WWF is active in six ecoregions in the United States, each home to a spectacular array of wildlife and plant species. While conservation remains a priority for WWF, in many parts of the United States, the focus is on restoration.

WWF helped bring an $8 billion federal restoration project to the Everglades and we remain there to oversee its progress. In the Northern Great Plains, once known for a wildlife pageant similar to that of Africa's Serengeti, WWF is working to restore areas where bison, prairie dogs and black footed ferrets can roam freely again.

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