NatureServe Explorer logo.An Online Encyclopedia of Life
Ecological System Comprehensive Report: Record 1 of 1 selected. View Glossary
<< Previous | Next >>

Scientific Name: Acadian-Appalachian Subalpine Woodland and Heath-Krummholz
Unique Identifier: CES201.568

Search for Images on Google
Summary: This ecological system encompasses vegetation of varying physiognomy at upper elevations, near and slightly above treeline, in the northeastern U.S. and adjacent Canada. It may be a zone between montane spruce-fir forest and alpine systems or may cover the ridgelines and summits of lower mountains. In the Appalachians it occurs mostly above 915 m (3000 feet) elevation but can be at much lower elevations near the Atlantic Coast. Trees become progressively stunted as exposure increases, with Picea rubens being replaced by Picea mariana in a stunted form. Vegetation structure ranges from woodland to shrubland to sparsely vegetated dwarf-shrubs and herbs. Woodlands may be locally extensive, and patches of open rock support areas of shrub, dwarf-shrub or sparse vegetation. In the subalpine zone, shrublands may be extensive on the upper slopes, forming krummholz or, in somewhat more protected spots, deciduous shrub thickets. Ericads, including Kalmia angustifolia, Ledum groenlandicum, and Vaccinium uliginosum, are the most characteristic shrubs; Empetrum nigrum and Empetrum eamesii ssp. atropurpureum (= Empetrum atropurpureum) are indicative of the subalpine zone. Vaccinium boreale occurs rarely but is diagnostic where it is present. Subalpine fens are included here: these are heath-dominated and graminoid-dominated fens, often occurring in a mosaic surrounded by other subalpine vegetation. They are on gentle slopes (usually about 10%), usually at 732 to 915 m (2400-3000 feet) elevation. Calamagrostis pickeringii is dominant and characteristic in the graminoid fens, with northern sedges such as Carex michauxiana, Carex wiegandii, Carex exilis, etc. The montane heath fens contain Alnus viridis ssp. crispa (= Alnus crispa), Ilex mucronata (= Nemopanthus mucronatus), and ericads. Peat accumulation is in the range of 10-50 cm. Occurrences are usually about 5 acres in size but range up to about 20 acres.

Classification Approach: International Terrestrial Ecological Systems Classification (ITESC)

Classification Comments: This system is distinguished from Acadian-Appalachian Montane Spruce-Fir Forest (CES201.566) by the shift to woodland and patchy barrens from the forested character of the montane forest, including the decreased importance of Picea rubens. They are often contiguous on the ground. It is related to Northern Appalachian-Acadian Rocky Heath Outcrop (CES201.571) but occurs at higher elevations, lacks Pinus spp. (except for occasional stunted individuals) and Quercus rubra, and features Vaccinium uliginosum, Empetrum and other subalpine plant species that are lacking from the lower-elevation analog. Patches of Picea rubens / Vaccinium angustifolium / Sibbaldiopsis tridentata Woodland (CEGL006053) might occur in this system, but only incidentally; that association is more central to the concept of Northern Appalachian-Acadian Rocky Heath Outcrop (CES201.571). At Acadia National Park, this system could be attributed to the highest balds if Empetrum and/or Vaccinium uliginosum are present, representing a low-elevation disjunction; Northern Appalachian-Acadian Rocky Heath Outcrop (CES201.571) is the common system on Acadia's bald hills. Subalpine fens are considered a distinct system by New Hampshire Natural Heritage Program (the only state where they are currently known to occur), but because (1) there is little information currently available on them and (2) they tend to occur below treeline, they are included within this system. This could be reconsidered as more information on their landscape distribution, extent and pattern becomes available.

Similar Ecological Systems
Unique Identifier Name
CES201.566 Acadian-Appalachian Montane Spruce-Fir Forest
CES201.571 Northern Appalachian-Acadian Rocky Heath Outcrop

Component Associations
Association Unique ID Association Name
CEGL006031 (Picea mariana, Abies balsamea) / Kalmia angustifolia - Ledum groenlandicum Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL006038 Picea mariana - Abies balsamea / Sibbaldiopsis tridentata Shrubland
CEGL006053 Picea rubens / Vaccinium angustifolium / Sibbaldiopsis tridentata Woodland
CEGL006064 Alnus viridis ssp. crispa - Spiraea alba / Solidago macrophylla Shrubland
CEGL006140 Empetrum nigrum - Vaccinium uliginosum - Vaccinium oxycoccos / Rubus chamaemorus Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL006268 Picea mariana / Ledum groenlandicum - Empetrum nigrum / Cladonia spp. Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL006425 Kalmia angustifolia - Chamaedaphne calyculata / Rubus chamaemorus / Cladonia spp. Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL006533 Vaccinium uliginosum / Sibbaldiopsis tridentata Sparse Vegetation


Land Cover Class: Shrubland
Spatial Pattern: Large patch
Natural/Seminatural: No
Vegetated ( > 10% vascular cover):
Upland: Yes
Wetland: Yes
Isolated Wetland: No

Diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Shrubland (Shrub-dominated)  
Ridge/Summit/Upper Slope  
Picea (glauca, mariana, rubens) - Abies  

Non-diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Forest and Woodland (Treed)  
Moss/Lichen (Nonvascular)  
Mesotrophic Soil  
Oligotrophic Soil  
Acidic Soil  
Very Shallow Soil  
Shallow Soil  
Mineral: W/ A-Horizon >10 cm  
Mineral: W/ A-Horizon <10 cm  
Intermediate Disturbance Interval  
Long Disturbance Interval  
F-Patch/Medium Intensity  
W-Landscape/High Intensity  
Needle-Leaved Tree  
Broad-Leaved Shrub  
Long (>500 yrs) Persistence  

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Char-
Domi-nant Con-stant
Cover Class %
Betula papyrifera var. cordifolia T5 Broad-leaved deciduous tree Tree canopy    
Picea glauca G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
Picea mariana G5 Needle-leaved tree Tree canopy    
Empetrum nigrum G5 Dwarf-shrub Short shrub/sapling    
Vaccinium boreale G4 Dwarf-shrub Short shrub/sapling    
Vaccinium uliginosum G5 Dwarf-shrub Short shrub/sapling    
Ledum groenlandicum G5 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Short shrub/sapling    
Kalmia angustifolia G5 Broad-leaved evergreen shrub Short shrub/sapling    
Calamagrostis pickeringii G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
Juncus trifidus G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    

Color legend for Distribution Map
Nation: United States
United States Distribution: ME, NH, NY, VT
Nation: Canada
Canadian Province Distribution: NB, QC
Global Range: This system is found on the higher summits of the northern Appalachian mountains, from northern New England and the Adirondacks into the Canadian Gaspé, extending south in scattered locations into southern New England.

Biogeographic Divisions
Division Code and Name Primary Occurrence Status
201-Laurentian-Acadian C: Confident or certain
202-Central Interior and Appalachian C: Confident or certain

The Nature Conservancy's Conservation Ecoregions
Code Name Occurrence Status
61 Lower New England / Northern Piedmont Confident or certain
63 Northern Appalachian-Boreal Forest Confident or certain

MRLC 2000 Mapzones
Code Name Occurrence Status
64 Northeastern Highlands Confident or certain
65 Connecticut River Basin and Highlands Confident or certain
66 The North Woods Confident or certain

National Mapping
ESLF Code (Ecological System Lifeform): 5320
ESP Code (Environmental Site Potential): 1389
EVT Code (Existing Vegetation Type): 2389

West Landfire Legend: No
East Landfire Legend: Yes

Element Description Edition Date: 20Aug2007
Element Description Author(s): S.C. Gawler

Ecological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

  • Comer, P., D. Faber-Langendoen, R. Evans, S. Gawler, C. Josse, G. Kittel, S. Menard, C. Nordman, M. Pyne, M. Reid, M. Russo, K. Schulz, K. Snow, J. Teague, and R. White. 2003-present. Ecological systems of the United States: A working classification of U.S. terrestrial systems. NatureServe, Arlington, VA.

  • Edinger, G. J., D. J. Evans, S. Gebauer, T. G. Howard, D. M. Hunt, and A. M. Olivero, editors. 2014a. Ecological communities of New York state. Second edition. A revised and expanded edition of Carol Reschke's ecological communities of New York state. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Albany, NY.

  • Eyre, F. H., editor. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Society of American Foresters, Washington, DC. 148 pp.

  • Gawler, S. C., and A. Cutko. 2010. Natural landscapes of Maine: A classification of vegetated natural communities and ecosystems. Maine Natural Areas Program, Department of Conservation, Augusta.

  • Sperduto, D. D., and C. V. Cogbill. 1999. Alpine and subalpine vegetation of the White Mountains, New Hampshire. New Hampshire Natural Heritage Inventory, Concord, NH. 25 pp. plus figures.

  • Sperduto, D. D., and W. F. Nichols. 2004. Natural communities of New Hampshire: A guide and classification. New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau, DRED Division of Forests and Lands, Concord. 242 pp.

Use Guidelines and Citation

The Small Print: Trademark, Copyright, Citation Guidelines, Restrictions on Use, and Information Disclaimer.

Note: All species and ecological community data presented in NatureServe Explorer at were updated to be current with NatureServe's central databases as of March 2019.
Note: This report was printed on

Trademark Notice: "NatureServe", NatureServe Explorer, The NatureServe logo, and all other names of NatureServe programs referenced herein are trademarks of NatureServe. Any other product or company names mentioned herein are the trademarks of their respective owners.

Copyright Notice: Copyright © 2019 NatureServe, 2511 Richmond (Jefferson Davis) Highway, Suite 930, Arlington, VA 22202, U.S.A. All Rights Reserved. Each document delivered from this server or web site may contain other proprietary notices and copyright information relating to that document. The following citation should be used in any published materials which reference the web site.

Citation for data on website including State Distribution, Watershed, and Reptile Range maps:
NatureServe. 2019. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available (Accessed:

Citation for Bird Range Maps of North America:
Ridgely, R.S., T.F. Allnutt, T. Brooks, D.K. McNicol, D.W. Mehlman, B.E. Young, and J.R. Zook. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Birds of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Bird Range Maps of North America:
"Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Robert Ridgely, James Zook, The Nature Conservancy - Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International - CABS, World Wildlife Fund - US, and Environment Canada - WILDSPACE."

Citation for Mammal Range Maps of North America:
Patterson, B.D., G. Ceballos, W. Sechrest, M.F. Tognelli, T. Brooks, L. Luna, P. Ortega, I. Salazar, and B.E. Young. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Mammals of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Mammal Range Maps of North America:
"Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Bruce Patterson, Wes Sechrest, Marcelo Tognelli, Gerardo Ceballos, The Nature Conservancy-Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International-CABS, World Wildlife Fund-US, and Environment Canada-WILDSPACE."

Citation for Amphibian Range Maps of the Western Hemisphere:
IUCN, Conservation International, and NatureServe. 2004. Global Amphibian Assessment. IUCN, Conservation International, and NatureServe, Washington, DC and Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Amphibian Range Maps of the Western Hemisphere:
"Data developed as part of the Global Amphibian Assessment and provided by IUCN-World Conservation Union, Conservation International and NatureServe."

NOTE: Full metadata for the Bird Range Maps of North America is available at:

Full metadata for the Mammal Range Maps of North America is available at:

Restrictions on Use: Permission to use, copy and distribute documents delivered from this server is hereby granted under the following conditions:
  1. The above copyright notice must appear in all copies;
  2. Any use of the documents available from this server must be for informational purposes only and in no instance for commercial purposes;
  3. Some data may be downloaded to files and altered in format for analytical purposes, however the data should still be referenced using the citation above;
  4. No graphics available from this server can be used, copied or distributed separate from the accompanying text. Any rights not expressly granted herein are reserved by NatureServe. Nothing contained herein shall be construed as conferring by implication, estoppel, or otherwise any license or right under any trademark of NatureServe. No trademark owned by NatureServe may be used in advertising or promotion pertaining to the distribution of documents delivered from this server without specific advance permission from NatureServe. Except as expressly provided above, nothing contained herein shall be construed as conferring any license or right under any NatureServe copyright.
Information Warranty Disclaimer: All documents and related graphics provided by this server and any other documents which are referenced by or linked to this server are provided "as is" without warranty as to the currentness, completeness, or accuracy of any specific data. NatureServe hereby disclaims all warranties and conditions with regard to any documents provided by this server or any other documents which are referenced by or linked to this server, including but not limited to all implied warranties and conditions of merchantibility, fitness for a particular purpose, and non-infringement. NatureServe makes no representations about the suitability of the information delivered from this server or any other documents that are referenced to or linked to this server. In no event shall NatureServe be liable for any special, indirect, incidental, consequential damages, or for damages of any kind arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information contained in any documents provided by this server or in any other documents which are referenced by or linked to this server, under any theory of liability used. NatureServe may update or make changes to the documents provided by this server at any time without notice; however, NatureServe makes no commitment to update the information contained herein. Since the data in the central databases are continually being updated, it is advisable to refresh data retrieved at least once a year after its receipt. The data provided is for planning, assessment, and informational purposes. Site specific projects or activities should be reviewed for potential environmental impacts with appropriate regulatory agencies. If ground-disturbing activities are proposed on a site, the appropriate state natural heritage program(s) or conservation data center can be contacted for a site-specific review of the project area (see Visit Local Programs).

Feedback Request: NatureServe encourages users to let us know of any errors or significant omissions that you find in the data through (see Contact Us). Your comments will be very valuable in improving the overall quality of our databases for the benefit of all users.

Copyright 2019
Version 7.1 (2 February 2009)
Data last updated: March 2019