Appalachian – Blue Ridge Forests

The forest found in the western part of Frederick County is part of one of the most diverse temperate forest regions in the world the Appalachian – Blue Ridge forest ecosystem. This ecoregion extends from Alabama to New York and covers an area approximately the size of South Dakota. Only the temperate forests found in Central China compare with this region for the sheer number of plant and animal species present, many of which are “endemic”, found only in this area. The reason for this species diversity has a lot to do with the geology and climate of this area.

Credit: - Mike Kay

The Appalachian – Blue Ridge Mountain chain is ancient with very long ridges and valleys most of which have a north south orientation. These mountains are relatively small with not much timberline so that they can support abundant forest; and, they have many geologic features. This part of the country also has a very humid climate which is good for plant growth and promotes diversity of species. This stable and lush environment has allowed many species to evolve under relatively steady conditions without a lot of disturbances. These long ridges also acted as barriers and travel corridors for north south movement. During the last Ice Age this north south alignment of mountains allowed species to move southward and escape extinction. Many of the north south plant and animal species converged in the high elevations of the Smoky Mountains creating an extremely diverse area.

There are nearly 400 species of trees and shrubs, 200 species of birds, and 75 mammal species found in this region. The streams and lakes in this area have what many ecologists consider to be the most diverse freshwater ecosystems in the world with numerous species of fish, mussels, snails, crayfish, amphibians, and other invertebrates present. There are four rare and endangered species of animals found in this region the red wolf, red shouldered hawk, loggerhead shrike, and Virginia big-eared bat.

It is estimated that 90% of this region has been disturbed since the time of European settlement. Some of the threats to this area include habitat fragmentation, development, introduction of alien species, and pollution. About 20% of this land has a protected status by being in public domain or under an easement.

Article by Mike Kay, Frederick County Forest Conservancy District Board

Nature note for 1/8/2021