Southeastern Coniferous & Broadleaf Forests

 rel=
Ferns (Pterophyta), Audubon, Florida, United States of America.
© WWF / Fritz PÖLKING

About the Area

This Global ecoregion is made up of 2 terrestrial ecoregions: Southeastern mixed forests; and Southeastern conifer forests.

It is the largest coniferous forest ecoregion east of the Mississippi River, spanning the coastal plains of southeastern United States. The biological diversity here is virtually unparalleled in temperate North America, with 190 tree species of which 27 are endemic.

The Southeastern conifer forests ecoregion is known for the long-leaf (long-needled) pine trees that once dominated the area. These are beautiful trees reaching 18 – 21 meters (60 – 70 ft) into the sky. Their needles are amazingly long - at nearly 45 cm they are the longest pine needles of any Eastern pine. The long-leaf pine wiregrass (Aristida stricta) communities support one of the richest herbaceous floras in the world.
Size:
585,000 sq. km (225,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Temperate Coniferous Forests

Geographic Location:
North America: southeastern United States

Conservation Status:
Critical/Endangered
Local Species
Southeastern mixed forests rank among the top 10 in the United States in terms of number of endemic reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, and mammals. There are more than 3,600 native species of herbs and shrubs, the highest in North America.

Components of this important fauna include the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis), mole skink (Eumeces egregius), Eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon corais), and Apalachicola dusky salamander (Desmognathus apalachicolae). Gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) are important to other animals in the ecoregion because nearly 400 other species use their burrows.

Featured species

 / ©: WWF-Canon / Urs WOY
Bolson tortoise (Gopherus flavomarginatus) drawing.
© WWF-Canon / Urs WOY
Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)

The Gopher tortoise’s upper shell is brown or tan, with growth rings evident on younger individuals. The under shell is unhinged, dull yellowish in color, with the soft parts grayish brown. The upper shell can range in length from 107 to 240 mm. Compared to the other species in its genus, the gopher tortoise's head is broad, hind feet small, and shell elongate.

It is an herbivore that enjoys low vegetation. The gopher tortoise spends most of its foraging time grazing in areas with a good supply of grasses and low herbs. Its food primarily consists of grasses and leaves with occasional wild fruits and berries.

The life of a gopher tortoise revolves around a tunnel-like burrow that is excavated using its shovel-like front feet. Burrows can be up to 12 meters in length and 3 meters in depth. Each burrow has a single opening and the width of the burrow is approximately equal to the length of the tortoise.

Tortoise burrows also afford refuge to other animals including the indigo snake, pine snake, gopher frog, Florida mouse, opossum, armadillo, burrowing owl, gopher cricket, scarab beetles, and many others. Some, such as the Florida mouse, cannot exist without the tortoise burrow.

Read more:
Threats
As a result of extensive habitat loss and degradation, many species that occur in this region, including many of those native to long-leaf pine forests are now endangered. Virtually all of the long-leaf pine forests have disappeared, either replaced by mixed hardwood forests as a result of fire suppression or converted to farms to grow food or trees for lumber or paper pulp.

Historically, intensive logging and clearance have destroyed the majority of native communities in the ecoregion. In many areas, the suppression of the natural fire regime has resulted in the conversion of conifer stands to stands of hardwood species, while urban sprawl and development continue to threaten other areas of intact habitat.
WWF’s work
North America is the largest global producer of timber yet has fallen behind other parts of the world in the development of forest certification. The Forests for Life Campaign joined forces with WWF-US and WWF Canada to hold the first North American Forests for Life Certification Conference in San Francisco.

The event succeeded in raising the profile of certification and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) within North America, as well as raising WWF's profile within the forest products business community. The event also saw the launch of results from a new research project conducted by the 2 WWF national organizations - a mapping exercise which revealed that only 5% of North America's forest ecoregions are adequately protected. Conversely, three quarters of the continent's forest ecoregions are threatened with extinction, showing for the first time that it is not just individual species but entire ecosystems that are at risk in North America.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Donate to WWF

Your support will help us build a future where humans live in harmony with nature.