Habitats of North Carolina
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Ocean Beaches and Sand Flats
Habitat Overview This habitat includes sandy beaches and sand flats located along the outer coast on barrier islands or along inlets between islands. It does not include the grasslands and scrub thickets located behind the foredunes nor the narrow strips of sand and silt located on the sound sides of the barrier islands, both of which are covered in other habitats.

Plant members of this habitat are all psammophytic herbaceous species that are highly tolerant of salt exposure and at least periodic overwash.

No obligate herbivores on these species have been identified. The animal members of this habitat are instead predatory species, including Tiger Beetles, Wolf Spiders, and plovers, all of which forage on the beaches themselves. Other avian members of this habitat nest on bare sand, usually communally, making use of mutualistic defense against predators. Although adults forage over water or marshes, they return to beaches to rest.

All of these species were once widespread along our barrier beaches but most are now restricted to the few remaining areas where human traffic -- both foot and vehicular -- is strongly restricted. Some of the avian species now nest primarily on dredge spoil islands or, in the case of Least Terns, on the flat roofs of shopping centers. Eastern Beach Tiger Beetles are likewise now restricted mainly to sand flats next to inlets, where human activities are more limited due to strong currents.
Related NHP Natural Communities Upper Beach (Northern Subtype), Upper Beach (Southern Subtype), and Sand Flat
Determining Species
Taxa Global RankState RankProbability of Extirpation (PE)
Amaranthus pumilus - Seabeach Amaranth G2S10.3584
Atriplex mucronata - Northern Seabeach Orach GNRS20.0460
Atriplex pentandra - Southern Seabeach Orach G5S30.0058
Cakile edentula - American Searocket G5S30.0058
Cakile harperi - Harper's Searocket G4S30.0058
Euphorbia polygonifolia - Northern Seaside Spurge G5S30.0058
Ipomoea imperati - Beach Morning-glory G5S10.3584
Iva imbricata - Dune Marsh-elder G5S30.0058
Sesuvium maritimum - Slender Sea-purslane G5S10.3584
Sesuvium portulacastrum - Shoreline Sea-purslane G5S10.3584
Charadrius melodus - Piping Plover G3S10.3584
Charadrius wilsonia - Wilson's Plover G5S20.0460
Gelochelidon nilotica - Gull-billed Tern G5S1S20.1284
Haematopus palliatus - American Oystercatcher G5S2S30.0164
Hydroprogne caspia - Caspian Tern G5S10.3584
Rynchops niger - Black Skimmer G5S20.0460
Sterna hirundo - Common Tern G5S20.0460
Sternula antillarum - Least Tern G4S30.0058
Thalasseus maximus - Royal Tern G5S40.0007
Thalasseus sandvicensis - Sandwich Tern G5S3S40.0020
Gnorimoschema terracottella GNRS2S30.0164
Habroscelimorpha dorsalis - Eastern Beach Tiger Beetle G3G4S2S30.0164
Expected Number of Extirpations with a PE value (Sum of PE) = 2.5495
N = Number of Extant Species with a PE value = 22
Average PE = ENE/N = 0.1159
Number of S5 species = 0
Proportion of Secure Species = Number of S5 Species/N = 0.0000
Habitat Risk Index = ENE x (1 – PSS) = 2.5495

Mutualistic and Competitory Symbioses. Nesting Colonies: (Charadrius melodus-Charadrius wilsonia-Haematopus palliatus-Sterna hirundo-Sternula antillarum-Gelochelidon nilotica-Thalasseus maximus-Thalasseus sandvicensis-Hydroprogne caspia-Rynchops niger). Interspecific behaviors within these colonies involve group defense as well as territoriality and other forms of spacing behavior. Non-breeding Flocks: In addition to nesting colonies, some of these species also form mixed-species foraging or resting flocks, which again involves mutual defense but also feeding behaviors, including commensalistic food-finding as well as at least some competition for food.

Candidates for Inclusion Adult Atlantic Ghost Crabs (Ocypode quadrata) are obligate inhabitants of beaches. Beach hoppers (Talitrid Amphipods) living close to the high tide line may also qualify but Mole Crabs, Coquina Clams and other intertidal species are treated as marine rather than terrestrial species.

Habitat Sub-sets Except for the two Plovers -- which forage as well as nest on beaches -- the other seabirds are probably better placed in a separate habitat category that would include their offshore foraging habitats.

Distribution Map
Survey Coverage Map
Survey Coverage
Survey Priorities
Average Imperilment of Habitat Members
Habitat Conservation Status
High Quality Habitat Occurrence Table
High Quality Habitat Occurrences
Protected Habitat Occurrences
Threats and Trends
Status Summary
Stewardship Recommendations
Updated on 2020-12-01 09:11:43