Natural communities are best described as “recurring assemblages of plants and animals found in particular physical environments”. The Maryland landscape is a diverse and complex one with a variety of natural communities represented, from beaches and fringing tidal marshes along the coast to high-elevation peatlands and ravines of old-growth hemlock in the mountains. Each of these natural communities are uniquely tied to a suite of environmental conditions and species adapted to those conditions. Just as a tidal marsh is characterized by species adapted to freshwater or brackish tidal conditions, a montane peatland contains species restricted to higher elevations and cooler climates. Together, they form an intricate network of habitats supporting all of Maryland’s natural diversity that includes more than 16,000 species.
The conservation of Maryland’s natural communities is vital in sustaining our natural diversity and is a priority of the Maryland Natural Heritage Program (MD NHP). Natural communities function as “coarse filters” because their protection benefits all species and processes. According to a national study, habitat degradation and destruction in the is the number one threat to over 85% of our nation’s 1,880 most imperiled plant and animal species (Wilcove and Rothstein et al. 2000). Since 1979, MD NHP has worked on public lands and with private landowners in an effort to identify and protect natural communities through inventory work and natural community studies. This work has yielded much in the understanding of our natural communities especially in determining which ones are rare and in need of conservation. The purpose of this page is to provide access to that information describing the full array of Maryland’s natural communities to those in education, scientific research, environmental consulting, land management, and conservation planning.
Natural community classification is an important tool that provides a way for biologists to sort, understand, and communicate the complexity of our landscape. Over the years, Maryland Natural Heritage Program (MD NHP) has worked to develop a natural community classification that allows us to:
It is a fine-scaled classification system that uses an ecologically based hierarchy of grouping levels to organize community types in a logical manner. It is conceptually based on similar classifications developed by the MD NHP (Berdine 1999), Virginia Natural Heritage Program (Fleming et al. 2016), and North Carolina Heritage Program (Schafale 2012), and is compatible with the United States National Vegetation Classification (USNVC). An overview of the full natural community classification hierarchy of 79 ecological community groups and 224 community types is provided in “The Natural Communities of Maryland: 2016 Natural Community Classification Framework”. This document is current as of May 2016 however, future updates are necessary as new information is obtained. More detailed information about specific natural communities can be accessed through a variety of informative factsheets.
Natural Community Classification Studies – please note these are archived project reports and classification may not be current. Please refer to “The Natural Communities of Maryland: 2016 Natural Community Classification Framework” for current up-to-date classification of community types.
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