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It is difficult to identify any small number of characteristics that can adequately describe the Lower New England - Northern Piedmont ecoregion (LNE-NP) as a cohesive geographic unit. Its long north - south axis and the lack of a single waterbody or mountain range with regional significance may be responsible, in part. For instance, the North Atlantic Coast ecoregion to the east is largely defined by the moderating influence of the sea and the littoral deposits along its shore. The Northern Appalachians Ecoregion to the west and north is characterized by tall granitic massifs and the regions cold, continental climate. The LNE-NP ecoregion lacks any such strong environmental gradient along a shore or mountain range instead being influenced by a little of both among other things. This lack of any clear defining feature(s) fuels a continuing discussion on where the regions boundaries should be drawn.

The LNE-NP ecoregion includes portions of 12 states and the District of Columbia (Map 1. Ecoregion boundaries). The Lower New England ecoregion extends from southern Maine and New Hampshire with their formerly glaciated, low mountain and lake studded landscape through the limestone valleys of western Massachusetts and Connecticut, Vermont and eastern New York. Rhode Island, eastern Massachusetts and Connecticut are distinctive in that the communities are more fire adapted including pitch pine and oak dominated forests on glacially deposited sandy till that forms a broad plain with many ponds. The Northern Piedmont in Maryland, northern Virginia and eastern Pennsylvania was never glaciated and is characterized by broad gently-rolling hills and valleys upon which dry oak woods and remnant mesophytic forests occur on remnant sites, steep slopes and ridgelines. The valleys contain significant wetlands many of which are calcareous.

Large portions of the Appalachian Mountains lie within the ecoregion including the Palisades in New York and New Jersey, the Taconics and the Berkshires in Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, and Connecticut, and the widely strewn Monadnocks of southern New Hampshire. Large rivers originating in the Appalachians cut across the Atlantic slope lowlands generally from north or west to east emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. The Potomac, Susquehanna, Delaware, Hudson, Housatonic, Connecticut, Merrimack, and Saco Rivers provide a diversity of high- and low-energy aquatic habitats and most support conservation targets of this plan. The natural character of the ecoregion is perhaps best seen in the 8% of the region currently within existing protected lands, primarily state-held, including Mt. Greylock State Park in Massachusetts, Mt. Pisgah State Park in New Hampshire, Yale-Myers Forest in Connecticut, Palisades Park in New York and New Jersey, Sterling Forest in Pennsylvania, and the Potomac Gorge in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

The Atlantic slope of North America was shaped by many tectonic, volcanic, and glacial events that created a diverse geology, interesting landforms, and topographic elevations that range from sea-level to 3800 feet (Map 3. Bedrock Geology and Map 4. Topography). The region receives 36 - 50 inches of precipitation annually. This in turn creates a diversity of wetlands and aquatic systems. An Ecological Land Unit (ELU) analysis of the region identified 486 biophysical combinations of a potential combinations based on surficial geology, topography, and elevation. Assuming that ELU's are a surrogate for natural community diversity where field data are lacking would suggest that this ecoregion is quite diverse. A number of endemic species occur in LNE-NP and the regions long north-south axis captures species and natural communities more representative of the Northern Appalachian Boreal ecoregion in higher elevations and southern species in the Piedmont. The large rivers, particularly those that are tidal in their lower reaches, provide habitat for estuarine species more indicative of the North Atlantic Coast ecoregion.

Author: Arlene Olivero

Geographic Extent: Ecoregional

GIS Applications: Ecoregional planning

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