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Natural Communities of North Carolina

by Mickey Jo Sorrell, 2014.

Longleaf Pine Savanna Natural Community, photo by Misty Buchanan, 2004
A natural community is a distinct collection of plants and animals (and fungi and bacteria) associated with each other and with their physical environment. North Carolina harbors over 300 unique natural communities, which can be grouped into about 30 categories (listed below).
Natural communities consist of both biotic (living: plants and animals) and abiotic (non-living: soil and water) factors. Plants tend to locate where their needs for soil, water, and space are met. Animals follow similar needs, which include safety and a reliable food supply. The combination of these biotic and abiotic factors makes each of North Carolina’s natural communities unique. 
Each natural community is most likely to be found in its preferred ecoregion – mountains, piedmont, or coastal plain – and its preferred circumstances – high and dry, low and moist, or a combination. It is North Carolina’s varied topography (sea level to tallest mountain on the east coast), soil (sand to clay to rock), and moisture (rivers, ocean, and rainfall) that allow for the rich biodiversity we enjoy.
Once you become familiar with a few of North Carolina’s natural communities you will notice them around your neighborhood and across the state.  Some are familiar faces in many parts of eastern North America’s Temperate Deciduous Forest biome, while many can be found only in North Carolina. They are home to our native species and the building blocks of whole ecosystems that cycle nutrients and clean the water and air.  Different natural communities can be found close together in the same landscape like distinct neighborhoods within a city. 
Natural Communities of North Carolina
  Spruce-Fir Forests 
  Grass and Heath Balds
  Northern Hardwood Forests 
  Mountain Cove Forests 
  Piedmont and Coastal Plain Mesic Forests
  Mountain Dry Coniferous Woodlands
  Mountain Oak Forests
  Piedmont and Coastal Plain Oak Forests 
  High Elevation Rock Outcrops 
  Low Elevation Cliffs and Rock Outcrops
  Coastal Plain Marl Outcrop
  Granitic Flatrocks
  Piedmont and Mountain Glades and Barrens 
  Maritime Grasslands
  Maritime Upland Forests 
  Dry Longleaf Pine Communities
  Brownwater Coastal Plain Floodplains
  Blackwater Coastal Plain Floodplains
  Piedmont and Mountain Floodplains
  Riverine Aquatic Communities
  Mountain Bogs and Fens
  Upland Seepages and Spray Cliffs 
  Piedmont and Mountain Upland Pools and Depressions
  Coastal Plain Nonalluvial Wetland Forests
  Pocosins - Peatland and Streamhead
  Wet Pine Savannas
  Coastal Plain Depression Communities 
  Natural Lake Communities 
  Maritime Wetlands
  Freshwater Tidal Wetlands
  Estuarine Communities



Michael Schafale, Guide to the Natural Communities of North Carolina, 4th Approximation (North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, 2012)

David Blevins and Michael P. Schafale, Wild North Carolina: Discovering the Wonders of Our State's Natural Communities (Chapel Hill:The University of North Carolina Press, 2011)

B.W. Wells, Natural Gardens of North Carolina (1932, UNC Press, 2002)

Image Credit: 

Longleaf Pine Savanna Natural Community, by Misty Buchanan, 2004