Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain

Description & Physiography

As an ecoregion, occurring at the interfaces between continent and ocean and between tropical and temperate climates, the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain is as ecologically dynamic and diverse. Natural communities move around, and new species appear on the biological horizon. The Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain is almost a factory for the generation of new and novel species, communities, and ecological patterns and processes.

The Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain (MACP) occupies 26 million acres east of the fall line between the Piedmont and Atlantic Coastal Plain, south of the James River in Virginia and north of Charleston Harbor in South Carolina. About two thirds of this very rich ecoregion is in North Carolina. This is the land of longleaf pines and bald cypress trees; of bottomland hardwood forests and swamps; of pocosins and palmettos; of Carolina Bays and Carolina Sandhills; of the Outer Banks and some of the world’s best and most active coastal dunes, sounds, and estuaries; of natural fires, floods, and storms are so dominant in this region that the landscape changes very quickly. Rivers routinely change their courses and emerge from their banks.

Climate

The climate in the Coastal Plain is humid summers and temperate winters.

Plants & Animals

The ecoregional planning team working on this region established goals for 561 targets (97 animal species, 224 plant species, 240 plant community types), including the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Venus Fly-trap, the Red Wolf, and the now-extinct Carolina Parakeet.

Humans & History

This is a dynamic and damaged region where threat abatement is extremely daunting and virtually always requires active conservation efforts.

Today

Barring major preservation and restoration efforts, almost a third of the MACP’s rarest plants and a tenth of its natural communities are already gone or severely degraded, and much of the rest, including almost two thirds of the MACP’s rare fauna, is in very serious trouble. The most significant threats (sources of biological and ecological stress) in the region include: global climate change and rising sea-level; altered surface hydrology and landform alteration (e.g., flood-control and hydroelectric dams, inter-basin transfers of water, drainage ditches, breached levees, artificial levees, dredged inlets and river channels, beach renourishment, and spoil deposition banks and piles); a regionally receding water table, probably resulting from both over-use and inadequate recharge; fire suppression; land fragmentation, mainly by highway development; land-use conversion (e.g., from forests to plantations, farms, golf courses, housing developments, and resorts); the invasion of exotic plants and animals; air and water pollution, mainly from agricultural activities including concentrated animal feed operations; and over-harvesting and poaching, especially of rare reptiles and carnivorous plants. 

It’s important to note that most of these threats are highly synergistic. For example, global climate change facilitates invasions by non-native species. Land-use conversion and fragmentation inhibit the ability to reduce fire suppression and use prescribed fire as a management tool. Concentrated animal feed lots have been significant sources of water pollution.

Learn More 

Links to Completed Ecoregional Assessments

 

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