Habitats of North Carolina

Welcome to the "Habitats of North Carolina" website!

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Floodplain Forests » Rich Wet-Mesic Hardwood ForestsMayapples and Wild Geraniums, Confluence of the Eno, Orange County by Steve Hall

Aims of this website

This website focuses on the habitats used by native species in North Carolina. Habitats are the places where a species finds the resources it needs to exist and to reproduce, and where environmental conditions fall within its range of tolerances: habitats are the places to which the species adapted through the long process of natural selection. As such, habitats are as characteristic of a species as are its physiological and morphological features, its behaviors, or the very code that both determines and is shaped by these adaptions, its DNA. In order to understand a species, you must know more than just the characteristic features of its anatomy, physiology, and behavior; you also need to know where and how it fits into its environment. This website recognizes the importance of habitats, both as necessary to fully appreciate individual species and to comprehend the overall structure of Nature itself in all its biodiversity.

In looking at a given natural scene, we have a tendency to characterize the habitat that is present by prominent, fixed features: landforms, rocks and soils, streams and other water features, and dominant vegetation. However, it is important to recognize the difference between “scenes” and habitats – a given scene actually contains as many different habitats as there are species encompassed within that view, whether seen or unseen. There may be thousands of species within a given scene, and it would be a herculean task to work out the complexity of habitat uses within just that one glimpse of nature, let alone over an entire region, continent, or planet. In this project, we take a simplifying approach by grouping species into habitat categories based on the overlapping nature of their environmental requirements. The habitats of Venus Flytraps and Venus Flytrap Cutworm Moths closely overlap, for instance. Although both species interact with their environments very differently, they each find the resources they need in the same places. The soil chemistry, moisture conditions, degree of insolation, and dependence on frequent fires that the plant requires are also required by the moth, whose larvae are largely dependent on the Flytraps for food. Both species have, in fact, a long history of co-evolution, each highly adapted to the other as key factors shaping their existence. For the moth, the larvae must cope with the insect-trapping and consuming adaptations of the plant – related to the nutrient poor soils that it occupies – and the plant must have sufficient defenses against the depredations of the moth larvae in order for its populations to exist within the same habitat.

In the Habitats of North Carolina, we take a grouped approach to identifying and understanding habitat relationships (see technical description under MSCD Habitats). We look for both strong overlap in the abiotic (non-living) factors that species are associated with as well as strong patterns of co-evolution (i.e., biotic factors) that help explain why species are so often found together within the same sites. The richly complex stories that these habitat correspondences reveal are the very substance of David Attenborough’s acclaimed nature programs. They are also key – as Attenborough clearly presents – to understanding how our ecosystems are changing in the face of unprecedented impacts to the environment, impacts that are largely due to our own attempts to convert the entire planet according to the habitat needs of just our one single species. In order for any attempt to conserve biodiversity – the immense complexity of individual species, genomes, and ecological relationships – we must understand the fundamental nature of species’ long and inseparable associations with their habitats.

Understanding and appreciating habitats is as fascinating as learning the field marks and behaviors of the individual species. In fact, success in knowing where to find a species is the key to successful birding, butterflying, mushrooming, bryophyting, etc. We hope that this website will contribute towards the development of “habitating”, which involves delving deeply into the beautiful scenes of nature and leads to a richer and more complex understanding of our natural world. This investigation of habitats (whatever it should be called) deserves to be pursued as an aspect of natural history studies in its own right. Habitats are also highly photogrenic!

How to navigate the website

This website describes habitats in individual accounts, identifying their key features, listing their characteristic species (here called Determining Species), mapping their distribution in North Carolina, and discussing their conservation needs. If you already know the name of the habitat you are interested in, enter that name in the Habitat Type box at the top of the home page. Start typing the name in the Habitat Type field. Names of habitats appear on the screen; click on the correct habitat that you want, so that the full name appears in the field box; then click Find (to the right). Once you are at a habitat account, you can navigate to the previous habitat in the habitat group by clicking on the Monarch on the left, or to the next habitat in the habitat group by clicking on the Monarch on the right. You can also get to additional habitats by entering text in the Habitat Type box; click on the full habitat name; then click on the blue Find tab. A third way to get to another habitat (within the same Habitat Group) is to click the down arrow under the habitat name, where the box shows other members in the group; click on the habitat of interest.

How to become a Citizen Scientist

One of our main aims is to involve the public in documenting the distribution and status of the state's habitats and other ecological associations. We therefore welcome records from anyone wishes to submit for habitats observed in North Carolina. Information on how to submit records and the details we need to vet the records are included in the Citizen Science tab on the main menu bar located at the top of the Home Page.

Stats

Number of habitats: 210

Number of habitats with summary: 168

Number of habitats with : 198

Number of species linked: 3,714


Citation: Hall, S., and T. Howard. 2022. Habitats of North Carolina [Internet]. Raleigh (NC): North Carolina Biodiversity Project and North Carolina State Parks. Available from https://auth1.dpr.ncparks.gov/habitat/index.php.