Habitats of North Carolina
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Upland Hardwood Forests
General Montane Mesic Forests
General Description The cove forests of the Southern Appalachians are some of the most biodiverse habitats in the Temperate Zone. Their cool, moist climates favor the growth of complex, multi-story plant communities; thick, rich litter layers; deeply-shaded rock faces and crevices; and multitudes of perennial springs and cool, clear-flowing streams. These habitats, moreover, have persisted in place for hundreds of millions of years. They survived unglaciated through the Ice Age and their steep slopes have largely protected them from permanent conversion to human uses. They provide refuges for many relicts of otherwise long-vanished floras and faunas. They are also centers of endemism in their own right, with new species being discovered on a regular basis.

Although there are few areas that still support virgin forests, these habitats continue to serve these functions during the Age of Man largely due to their steep slopes, which have resisted cultivation and large-scale development. In North Carolina, in particular, the lack of coal and other extensive mineral deposits have spared these communities from the massive strip mining and mountain-top removals that have taken place in other parts of the Appalachians. Today, these habitats are the most extensive of our remaining natural areas and retain the greatest amount of their pre-Colonial species diversity.

The habitat described here includes species that are associated with the most generalized features of the cove forests, particularly their deeply-shaded, cool, moist microclimates. It is similar, in this regard, to the General Mesic Hardwood Forests habitat, but comprises species that are restricted to the Mountains in North Carolina. Within the Mountains, however, these species occupy a wide altitudinal range, extending from the foothills of the Blue Ridge up into the areas covered with stands of Northern Hardwoods. Although the majority of these habitats occur within the steep, montane "coves" proper, higher ridgetops are also included where they are regularly swept by clouds and rain and support populations of the same mesophilic species that are more confined to ravines at lower elevations. The Determining Species of this habitat occur in both rich and acidic coves; those that are more tightly associated with either of these types are treated in other, more specifically-defined habitats.

The plant species that are restricted to this habitat are relatively few in number, with more species found only in either the rich or acidic varieties of cove forests or more widely in mesic habitats outside the mountains. They include some of the most characteristic tree species of cove forests per se, Yellow Birch and Fraser Magnolia, as well as Red Ramps, the herbaceous species made famous in the Southern Appalachians by Ramp festivals. American Ginseng -- another species famously exploited in the cove forests -- is, on the other hand, more typical of the species that may show a concentration in the mountains but that also occur more generally in mesic habitats all the way across to the eastern edge of the Coastal Plain.

Specialized herbivores are likewise few in number, consisting primarily of species associated with Sugar Maples or montane birches. Much more numerous are more generalized herbivores that feed on a variety of plant species -- most not confined to cove forests -- but which themselves have requirements for cool, moist, forests that restrict them to these habitats. Virtually all of these generalized herbivores have their center of geographic distribution located in the northern states or in Canada. The same is true for some of the predatory species of animals belonging to this habitat, particularly the birds and mammals, all of which are much more common farther north.

For the least vagile species associated with the forest floor, on the other hand, the cove forests of the Southern Appalachians are major centers of their diversity. These species are so highly dependent on specific temperature, moisture, and forest floor conditions that many of them are not only confined to the Southern Appalachians but are endemic to particular mountain massifs within this region. Although their ancestors were able to occupy much wider areas under colder, wetter climate conditions -- as prevailed in the Pleistocene -- their descendants became isolated in much smaller areas when warmer, drier habitats developed in the lowlands between these massifs (in some cases, the rivers in these valleys also act as effective barriers).

The best known of these species are the Plethodontid Salamanders, of which only the most terrestrial species -- members of the genus Plethodon -- are included in this habitat. Currently (and likely to increase), there are sixteen Determining Species for this habitat, out of the twenty that have been recorded in North Carolina. Members of this group in particular have evolved in close association with the cool, wet forest floor conditions that have allowed them to free themselves from the aquatic habitats needed by other amphibians for breeding and larval development: all members of this genus lay their eggs in underground burrows where the high soil moisture keeps them from drying out. This allows them to range freely across the forest floor, independent of surface waters, unlike most of the other members of this family (e.g., Eurycea and Desmognathus species) that are treated in habitats that contain surface waters as important features.

As described by Thomas and Hedin (2008), a number of invertebrate groups associated with the forest floors of mountain coves show similar centers of diversity in Southern Appalachian coves. These include the Xystodesmid Millipedes (Shelley and Whitehead, 1986; Marek and Bond, 2006), Phalangodid Opilionids (Thomas, 2007), Hypochilus and Nesticus spiders (Catley 1994; Hedin, 1997). Certain groups of land snails and ground beetles could also be added, along with probably many other groups of understudied invertebrates. Species that are associated with the forest floor itself are considered Determining Species of this habitat but those that are tightly associated with mesic rock faces are treated separately.

Arguably the most spectacular, if also the most obscure and solitary, is the species that Thomas and Hedin highlight in their paper, Fumontana deprehendor. This tiny, highly weird-looking Harvestman is found only in the cove forests of the Southern Appalachians, is the sole member of its genus, and appears to be most closely related to species that are now restricted to South Africa and South America. It thus appears to be a relict of a Gondwanan fauna that was once widespread in the Paleozoic, with the implication that it has been an inhabitant of the Southern Appalachian region for hundreds of millions of years. As such it would provide a striking confirmation of the stability of the ecosystems of this region, particularly its mesic forests.

Abiotic Factors Geographic Regions: Low to High Mountains. USDA Hardiness Zones: 6. Landform: slopes, ridges, ravines, and bottomlands. Slope Aspect: all aspects, particularly above 4,000'. Soil Moisture: Mesic. Soil texture: loamy. Soil pH: acidic to circumneutral. Soil Nutrient Content: nutrient poor to rich. Microclimate: Cool and humid. Hydrological Features: springs and seeps are common, particularly at the interface between slopes and bottomlands. Fire Frequency: very rare. Drought Frequency: uncommon to rare. Ice Storm Damage: low to moderate. Wind Storm Damage: moderate. Insolation: canopies are well insolated, lower strata are deeply shaded.

Biotic Structure Vegetation Type: closed-canopy forests composed of both broadleaf, deciduous trees and Eastern Hemlocks. Strata: herb layer is typically lush in rich cove forests but sparse in acidic coves; shrub thickets are usually very well developed in acidic coves. Woody debris and leaf litter: logs and fallen branches are common; leaf litter can be plentiful, as under deciduous forests in general, but its build-up may be limited due to erosion and general downhill slippage on steep slopes

Co-evolved Species Groups Phagic and Competitory Symbioses: (Montane Betula species/Ancylis discigerana-Bucculatrix canadensisella-Cameraria betulivora-Hydrelia inornata-Peridea ferruginea-Polygonia faunus) // (Betula alleghaniensis/Parornix vicinella) // (Betula lenta/Phyllonorycter martiella) // (Hydrangea arborescens/Aspilanta hydrangaeella

Determining Species
Taxa Global RankState RankProbability of Extirpation (PE)
HARDWOODS
Acer pensylvanicum - Striped Maple G5S40.0007
Betula alleghaniensis - Yellow Birch G5S50.00
Betula lenta - Sweet Birch G5S50.00
Magnolia fraseri - Fraser Magnolia G5S50.00
MOTHS
Acronicta fragilis - Fragile Dagger G5S4S50.0002
Acronicta funeralis - Funerary Dagger G5S3S40.0020
Acronicta innotata - Unmarked Dagger G5S4S50.0002
Acronicta spinigera - Nondescript Dagger G4S3S40.0020
Aethalura intertexta - Four-Barred Gray Moth G5S4S50.0002
Ancylis discigerana - Yellow Birch Leaffolder Moth GNRS2S40.0058
Aspilanta hydrangaeella GNRSU0.0020
Bucculatrix canadensisella - Birch Skeletonizer Moth GNRSU0.0020
Cameraria betulivora - Birch-leaf Blotchminer Moth GNRSU0.0020
Cepphis armataria - Scallop Moth G5S40.0007
Cladara atroliturata - Scribbler Moth G5S40.0007
Eosphoropteryx thyatyroides - Pink-patched Looper G4S3S40.0020
Epirrhoe alternata - White-banded Toothed Carpet Moth GNRS2S40.0058
Eugonobapta nivosaria - Snowy Geometer Moth G5S3S40.0020
Euphyia intermediata - Sharp-angled Carpet Moth G5S4S50.0002
Fishia illocata - Wandering Brocade Moth G5S3S40.0020
Heterophleps refusaria - Three-patched Bigwing Moth G4S40.0007
Hydrelia albifera - Fragile White Carpet Moth G5S3S40.0020
Hydrelia inornata - Unadorned Carpet Moth G5S4S50.0002
Hyppa contrasta G3G4S3S40.0020
Hyppa xylinoides - Common Hyppa Moth G5SU0.0020
Idia laurentii GNRS3S40.0020
Leuconycta lepidula - Marbled-green Leuconycta Moth G5S3S40.0020
Lithophane hemina - Hemina Pinion
Lithophane innominata - Nameless Pinion
Lithophane semiusta
Macaria notata - Birch Angle G4G5S3S40.0020
Olethreutes ferriferana - Hydrangea Leaftier Moth GNRS3S40.0020
Operophtera bruceata - Bruce Spanworm Moth GNRSU0.0020
Oreana unicolorella GNRSU0.0020
Packardia elegans - Elegant Tailed Slug Moth GNRSU0.0020
Parornix vicinella GNRSU0.0020
Peridea ferruginea - Chocolate Prominent G5S4S50.0002
Phlogophora iris - Olive Angle Shades Moth G5S3S40.0020
Phyllonorycter martiella GNRS1S20.1284
Plagodis serinaria - Lemon Plagodis Moth G5S40.0007
Platypolia mactata - Adorable Brocade Moth G5S2S30.0164
Pseudeva purpurigera - Straight-lined Looper G5S1S20.1284
Stamnodes gibbicostata - Shiny Gray Carpet Moth G4S2S30.0164
Symmerista leucitys - Orange-humped Mapleworm Moth G5S40.0007
Synanthedon fulvipes GNRS1S30.0460
Trichodezia albovittata - White-striped Black Moth G5S3S40.0020
Venusia comptaria - Brown-shaded Carpet Moth G5S2S40.0058
FORBS
Allium tricoccum - Red Ramps G5S40.0007
Arnoglossum reniforme - Great Indian-plantain G4S30.0058
Chelone lyonii - Pink Turtlehead G4S30.0058
Claytonia caroliniana - Carolina Spring-beauty G5S40.0007
Euonymus obovatus - Running Strawberry-bush G5S30.0058
Eutrochium steelei - Appalachian Joe-pye-weed G4S30.0058
Impatiens pallida - Pale Jewelweed G5S50.00
Stachys clingmanii - Clingman's Hedge-nettle G2S20.0460
Stellaria corei - Tennessee Starwort G4S30.0058
Viola blanda - Sweet White Violet G5S40.0007
ORTHOPTERANS
Amblycorypha alexanderi - Clicker Round-Winged Katydid GNRSU0.0020
Scudderia septentrionalis - Northern Bush Katydid G3S2S30.0164
BIRDS
Bonasa umbellus - Ruffed Grouse G5S40.0007
Catharus fuscescens - Veery G5S40.0007
Coccyzus erythropthalmus - Black-billed Cuckoo G5S20.0460
Junco hyemalis, summer -
Pheucticus ludovicianus - Rose-breasted Grosbeak G5S3S40.0020
Setophaga caerulescens, summer -
Setophaga fusca - Blackburnian Warbler G5S40.0007
GRAMINOIDS
Brachyelytrum aristosum - Northern Shorthusk G5S30.0058
Carex roanensis - Roan Mountain Sedge G2G3S20.0460
HARVESTMEN
Caddo agilis GNRSH0.00
Crosbycus dasycnemus
Fumontana deprehendor G2G3S2S30.0164
Hesperonemastoma kepharti GNRS1S20.1284
Leiobunum calcar GNRS3S40.0020
Leiobunum hoffmani GNRS2S30.0164
Sabacon cavicolens GNRS3S40.0020
MILLIPEDES
Deltotaria brimleii brimleii GNRTNRS3S4
Deltotaria brimleii philia GNRTNRSHS2
Dixioria coronata GNRS2S3
Dixioria dactylifera GNRS1
Dixioria pela G2SHS2
Dixioria watauga GNRS2S3
Dixioria wrighti GNRS2S3
Falloria translineata GNRSHS2
Falloria tuberosa GNRSH0.00
Prionogonus stibarophallus GNRSHS3
Sigmoria austrimontis GNRS1S2
Sigmoria nigrimontis angulosa GNRTNRSHS2
Sigmoria nigrimontis nigrimontis GNRSHS3
Sigmoria sigirioides GNRSHS1
Sigmoria simplex GNRSHS3
Sigmoria stenogon GNRS1S3
BUTTERFLIES
Erora laeta - Early Hairstreak G2G3S2S30.0164
Polygonia faunus - Green Comma G5S1S20.1284
MAMMALS
Myodes gapperi - Southern Red-backed Vole G5S50.00
Napaeozapus insignis - Woodland Jumping Mouse G5S40.0007
Peromyscus maniculatus - North American Deermouse G5S50.00
Sorex fumeus - Smoky Shrew G5S4S50.0002
Tamiasciurus hudsonicus - Red Squirrel G5S40.0007
HEMIPTERAN HOPPERS
Oncopsis abietis
Oncopsis citra
Oncopsis deluda
Oncopsis infumata
Oncopsis minor
LIZARDS
Plestiodon anthracinus
SALAMANDERS
Plethodon amplus
Plethodon aureolus
Plethodon chattahoochee
Plethodon cheoah
Plethodon glutinosus
Plethodon jacksoni
Plethodon jordani
Plethodon meridianus
Plethodon metcalfi
Plethodon montanus
Plethodon richmondi
Plethodon serratus
Plethodon shermani
Plethodon teyahalee
Plethodon ventralis
Plethodon yonahlossee
BEETLES
Trechus luculentus luculentus - GHTH G23T23S1S20.1284
Trechus rivulis - GNRS10.3584
Trechus schwarzi saludae - GNRTNRSHS1
Trechus unicoi - GNRS1S20.1284
Expected Number of Extirpations with a PE value (Sum of PE) = 1.3962
N = Number of Extant Species with a PE value = 71
Average PE = ENE/N = 0.0197
Number of S5 species = 6
Proportion of Secure Species = Number of S5 Species/N = 0.0845
Habitat Risk Index = ENE x (1 – PSS) = 1.2782

Estimated Risk to the Determining Species
Estimated Security of the Habitat
Index of Habitat Imperilment
Identified Risks
Observed Trends
Distribution Map
Distribution Almost all of the records for the species associated with this habitat come from the Mountains or nearby areas in the western Piedmont. Records from further east mainly represent rare, sporadic records of Black-billed Cuckoos from the breeding season. Records for both Red Squirrels and Unmarked Dagger Moths from Wake County are highly unlikely to represent resident, reproducing populations.
Major Conservation Reserves
Priority Areas for Surveys and Conservation Protection
Stewardship and Management Recommendations
References Thomas, S.M. and Hedin, M., 2008. Multigenic phylogeographic divergence in the paleoendemic southern Appalachian opilionid Fumontana deprehendor Shear (Opiliones, Laniatores, Triaenonychidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 46(2):645-658. Available online at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1055790307003521?casa_token=r1KZfWySwYQAAAAA:geMEAJBIss8ImV1KPTaPvYvqTs6Su9c-_hjDPqZ9AOIUWLDAWHkMPfsxbMwiwvAS4JmWBCL_Dw
Updated on 2021-12-31 14:04:13