Habitats of North Carolina
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Floodplain Forests
Cypress Swamps and Savannas
General Description Vast swamps, lakes, and ponds dominated by Cypresses (Taxodium species) are hallmark habitats of the Southeastern Coastal Plain and Mississippi Embayment, supporting a diverse assemblage of plants and animals (see Blevins and Schafale, 2011). This habitat unit described here focuses just on the Cypresses and animal species that are particularly associated with Taxodium; species that are associated more generally with coastal swamps are treated in other habitat types.

For the two plant members of this habitat- Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) and Pond Cypress (T. ascendens) -- hydrology is a key factor: habitats occupied by these species are inundated frequently and/or for long periods. These include both riverine and non-riverine swamp forests, lake and pond shorelines, and cypress savannas associated with Carolina Bays. Water chemistry is less important, with Taxodium distichum, at least, occurring in both nutrient-rich brownwater river systems and nutrient-poor, highly acidic blackwater systems; Taxodium ascendens is found primarily in blackwater systems.

While the typically hydric swamps occupied by Bald Cypress rarely experience any fires, the shallower ponds or savannas occupied by Pond Cypresses frequently dry out, making them more likely to burn, especially given their usual occurrence within fire-maintained pine savanna and sandhill habitats. Fire, in fact, plays an important role in maintaining the more open canopy structure found in these habitats and consequently the much richer herbaceous ground cover than is found in riverine cypress swamps (Ewal, 1995).

For the animal members of this habitat, the cypresses themselves are the main habitat requirement. Insect members of this habitat are adapted to spending their entire lives up in the trees, well above the water line. For the most part, no major differences have been observed among the animal members of this habitat between swamp forests composed primarily of T. distichum and cypress savannas dominated by T. ascendens. Neither do important differences appear to exist between cypress stands associated with peatland vs. alluvial soils, brownwater rivers vs. blackwater rivers, riverine vs. non-riverine or tidal vs. non-tidal swamps. Only Tolype minta appears to be associated primarily or possibly exclusively with cypress savannas and ponds where Pond Cypress is dominant.

The sole vertebrate member of this habitat, the Anhinga, makes use of a wider range of swampy habitats and has a range that extends far beyond that of our Taxodium species. However, in North Carolina, its breeding range strongly coincides with that of the Cypresses and it forages primarily in deeply flooded freshwater swamps and preferentially nests in Cypresses (see Birds of North Carolina Website, 2018). Consequently, we estimate that it shows at least an 80% fidelity to cypress-containing habitats.

Except for Anhingas, which range into Central and South America, all members of this habitat are endemic to the Coastal Plains and Mississippi Embayment of the Southeast. The genus Cutina, composed of four species (Pogue and Ferguson, 1998) is entirely associated with Taxodium. The same may be true for Isoparce, which in addition to I. cupressi, also includes the recently described I. broui, which is presumed to be associated with one of the Mexican species of Taxodium. On the other hand, the other genera all have species that feed on other plant genera, including conifers but also species of hardwoods.

Abiotic Factors Geographic Regions: eastern Piedmont to Lower Coastal Plain. USDA Hardiness Zones: 7b-8a. Landform: restricted to floodplains and wet flats. Soil Moisture: wet to hydric. Soil Texture: alluvial or clayey. Soil pH: acidic to circumneutral -- this habitat includes blackwater as well as brownwater floodplains. Soil Nutrients: poor to rich. Microclimate: warm and humid. Flood Frequency: several times per year to permanent. Flood Duration: weeks to months or permanent. Presence of Pools: common to abundant year-round. Fire Frequency: extremely rare. Drought Frequency: extremely rare. Ice Storm Damage: rare. Wind Storm Damage: moderate to severe; within the zone of regular hurricane impacts. Insolation: the canopy is well-insolated, lower strata can be deeply shaded.

Biotic Structure Key Species: Taxodium species are a requirement. Vegetation Type: closed-canopy to somewhat open forests. Strata: Subcanopy hardwoods are present but shrub and herb layer are sparse to absent; only species that are tolerant of flooding are included in this habitat. Organic Shelter, Foraging, and Nesting Structures: sunken fallen logs are common; leaf litter in swamps only partially decomposes in the low oxygen waters and is gradually transformed into the mucky soils characteristic of these habitats
Co-evolved Species Groups Phagic and Competitory Symbioses:
Taxodium species // Acronicta perblanda-Coleotechnites variiella-Cutina albopunctella-Cutina aluticolor-Cutina arcuata-Cutina distincta-Dioryctria pygmaeella-Iridopsis cypressaria-Iridopsis pergracilis-Isoparce cupressi-Lithophane abita-Macaria aequiferaria-Nemoria elfa-Tolype minta-Inscudderia walkeri-Stictolobus minutus-Tortistilus lateralis

Apart from their exclusive (or nearly so) diet on Taxodiums, the caterpillars of the moths in this group, along with both the adults and nymphs of the Cypress Katydid, are strongly streaked with black, green, brown and white, blending in with the cypress needles on which they feed. The adult moths, in contrast, are mainly gray, tan, or reddish brown with darker longitudinal streaks, allowing them to blend in with the bark of the cypresses.

Determining Species
Anhinga anhingaAnhingaG5S3S30.00407
Taxodium ascendensPond CypressG5S4S40.00041
Stictolobus minutusGNRS2S4S2S40.00407
Tortistilus lateralisSNR
Iridopsis cypressariaFlorida Cypress GrayGUS2S3S2S30.01230
Tolype mintaSouthern TolypeG4S2S3S2S30.01230
Coleotechnites variiellaa twirler mothGNRS2S4S2S40.00407
Dioryctria pygmaeellaBald Cypress Coneworm MothGNRS2S4S2S40.00407
Cutina arcuataCurve-lined Cutina MothGNRS3S4S3S40.00132
Isoparce cupressiCypress SphinxG4S3S4S3S40.00132
Lithophane abitaa noctuid mothGNRS3S4S3S40.00132
Nemoria elfaElfin EmeraldG4S3S4S3S40.00132
Cutina albopunctellaWhite-spotted CutinaGNRS4S40.00041
Cutina aluticolora Cutina mothGNRS4S40.00041
Cutina distinctaa Cutina mothG4S4S40.00041
Iridopsis pergracilisCypress LooperG4G5S4S40.00041
Macaria aequiferariaWoody AngleG5S5S50.00000
Acronicta perblandaCypress DaggermothG3G4SHSH
Inscudderia walkeriWalker's Cypress KatydidGNRSUSU0.00202
Nr = Number of Ranked Species = 18
Ner = Number of Extant, Ranked Species = 17
Nv = Number of Historic and Extirpated Species = 1
Nar = Number of Species at Risk of Extirpation (State rank > S5) = 16
Nss = Number of Secure Species (State Rank = S5) = 1
Pss = Proportion of Secure Species (Nss/Ner) = 0.05882
ENE = Expected Number of Extirpations (Sum of PE) = 0.05023
Average PE (ENE/Ner) = 0.00295
Habitat Risk Index = (Nar+Nv) x Average PE = 17 x 0.00295 = 0.05015

Estimated Risk to the Determining Species
Estimated Risk to the Co-evolved Species Groups
Estimated Security of the Habitat
Index of Habitat Imperilment
Identified Risks
Observed Trends
Distribution Map
Major Conservation Reserves
Priority Areas for Surveys and Conservation Protection
Stewardship and Management Recommendations
References Ewal, K.C. 1995. In Fire in wetlands: a management perspective. Proceedings of the Tall Timbers Fire Ecology Conference (No. 19, pp. 111-116). Available online at: http://talltimbers.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Ewel1995_op.pdf

Frederick, P. C. and D. Siegel-Causey (2000). Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA

Fussell, J.O.; Webster, W.D.; Hall, S.P.; LeGrand, H.E.; Schafale, M.P.; and Russo, M.J. 1995. Ecosystem survey of Dare County Air Force Range, North Carolina. Rep. to N.C. Natural Heritage Program, Division of Parks and Recreation, Department of Environment and Natural Resources; Raleigh, NC.

Hall, S.P. 1999a. Inventory of the moths, butterflies, and grasshoppers of Pettigrew, Goose Creek, and Jockey's Ridge State Parks and Nag's Head Woods TNC Preserve. Unpubl. Rep., NC NHP; Raleigh, NC

Hall, S. P. 1999b. Inventory of the macrolepidoptera of the Devil’s Gut Preserve. North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, Raleigh, North Carolina, 110 pp

Hall, S.P. 2009a. Landscape inventory of the Fall-Line Sandhills. Unpubl. Rep. to US Fish and Wildlife Service Raleigh Field Office; Raleigh. North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, Raleigh

Hall, S.P. and Schweitzer, D.F. 1993. A survey of the moths, butterflies, and grasshoppers of four Nature Conservancy Preserves in Southeastern North Carolina. Unpubl. Rep. to TNC, NC Field Office; Durham, NC

Hall, S.P.; LeGrand, H.E.; and Sullivan, J.B. 2013. A Natural Heritage Inventory of the Tar River Floodplain, North Carolina. 2013 field data and moth collection records.

Hall, S.P.; Sullivan, J.B.; and Schweitzer, D.F. 1999. Eradication of the Asian-strain of The Gypsy Moth from the Cape Fear Region of North Carolina: Assessment of Risk to Nontarget Macro-Lepidoptera. USDA Forest Service Technical Publication Series; Morgantown, WV. 95 pp. Available online at: http://nc-biodiversity.com/sites/default/files/AGM%20Non-Target%20Impact%20Study%2C%20edited%20June%202017.pdf

Hinsley, L.E. 2002. Research at N. C. State University related to regeneration of Atlantic White Cedar (AWC) and Baldcypress. USFWS, Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office. Available online at: https://www.fws.gov/raleigh/coastal/plnwrawc/atlanticwhitecedarresearch.html

LeBlond, R.J.; Fussell, J.O.; Braswell, A.L.; Grant, G.S.; Hall, S.P.; and Sullivan, J.B. 1997. Inventory of the Rare Species, Natural Communities, and Critical Areas of Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base, North Carolina. Phase III. NC Natural Heritage Program, Div. Parks and Recreation; Raleigh, NC; 1131 pp.

LeGrand, H.E.; Hall, S.P.; and Sullivan, J.B. 2013. A Natural Heritage Inventory of the Roanoke River Floodplain, North Carolina. NC Natural Heritage Program, Raleigh.

Pearsall, S.H., McCrodden, B.J. and Townsend, P.A., 2005. Adaptive management of flows in the lower Roanoke River, North Carolina, USA. Environmental management, 35(4), pp.353-367. Available online at: ftp://kshsrv.fgg.uni-lj.si/students/podipl/UVR/Pearsall_et_al_2005.pdf

Popenoe, J., Warwick, C.R., and Kjelgren R. 2018. Key Plant, Key Pests: Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum). UFL IFAS Extension, ENH1293.

Townsend, P.A., 2001. Relationships between vegetation patterns and hydroperiod on the Roanoke River floodplain, North Carolina. Plant Ecology, 156(1), pp.43-58.


US Fish and Wildlife Service 2013. Habitat management plan for Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge. Available online at: https://www.fws.gov/uploadedFiles/Roanoke%20River%20HMP%20signed-sm.pdf

USDA, Plant Protection Division. 1971. Cooperative economic insect report 21:283. Available online at: https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/43510618#page/31/mode/1up
Updated on 2022-02-04 17:03:02