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Scientific Name: Northeastern Erosional Bluff
Unique Identifier: CES203.498

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Summary: These steep, linear cliffs form where erosion in deep glacial or alluvial deposits has left tall (>3 m), nearly vertical banks of sand, silt, clay, or a mixture. They typically develop in landscapes that are otherwise of rather low relief. The substrate is unconsolidated and provides habitat for certain animals that burrow into steep banks, such as bank swallows and certain invertebrates. Vegetation is very sparse, mostly herbaceous, and variable in composition. Characteristic herbs are those adapted to the unstable substrate and regular disturbance, such as Schizachyrium scoparium, Andropogon gerardii, Danthonia spicata, Agrostis gigantea, Carex tonsa var. rugosperma (= Carex rugosperma), Ionactis linariifolius, Lespedeza capitata, Polygonella articulata, and Lechea intermedia, as well as weedy herbs such as Elymus repens (= Elytrigia repens), Veronica officinalis, and Oenothera biennis. Scattered individuals of the low shrub Comptonia peregrina may occur, and less frequently individuals of Vaccinium angustifolium or Vaccinium pallidum. The somewhat more stable portions of the bank may have sparse and usually small trees of Betula papyrifera, Betula populifolia, or Populus tremuloides. A few New England occurrences support populations of the state-rare plants Lupinus perennis and Hudsonia ericoides. Known examples occur in the Chesapeake Bay, some maritime bluffs along the Northern Atlantic Coast, the Lake Erie and Lake Ontario coastlines, and some of the larger northeastern rivers.

Classification Approach: International Terrestrial Ecological Systems Classification (ITESC)

Classification Comments: These features are very narrow but may extend over hundreds of meters or more. They are distinctly different from adjacent habitats. They are sometimes referred to as cliffs; the usage of "cliff" and "bluff" is colloquially inconsistent, though in some references "bluff" refers to features in unconsolidated material and "cliffs" involve consolidated rock. There is high floristic heterogeneity across the range of this system.

Component Associations
Association Unique ID Association Name
CEGL002584 Laurentian-Northeast Eroding Bluff Sparse Vegetation
CEGL006618 North Atlantic Maritime Erosional Bluff Sparse Vegetation


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

Diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Deep Soil  

At-Risk Species Reported for this Ecological System
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
NatureServe Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status
Ellipsoptera puritana
  (Puritan Tiger Beetle)
G1G2 LT: Listed threatened

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Char-
Domi-nant Con-stant
Cover Class %
Comptonia peregrina G5 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Short shrub/sapling    
Ionactis linariifolius G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Lechea intermedia G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Lespedeza capitata G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Lupinus perennis G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Polygonella articulata G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Andropogon gerardii G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
Schizachyrium scoparium G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    

Animal Species Reported for this Ecological System
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status Charact-
Ellipsoptera puritana
  (Puritan Tiger Beetle)
G1G2 LT: Listed threatened    

Color legend for Distribution Map
Nation: United States
United States Distribution: CTpotentially occurs, MA, MD, ME, NH, NY, PA, VApotentially occurs, VT
Global Range: This system is currently documented from the Chesapeake Bay north to Maine and along the shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario.

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
203-Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plain C: Confident or certain

The Nature Conservancy's Conservation Ecoregions
Code Name Occurrence Status
48 Great Lakes Confident or certain
58 Chesapeake Bay Lowlands Confident or certain
62 North Atlantic Coast Confident or certain
63 Northern Appalachian-Boreal Forest Confident or certain
64 St. Lawrence-Champlain Valley Confident or certain

MRLC 2000 Mapzones
Code Name Occurrence Status
60 Chesapeake Bay Confident or certain
63 Finger Lakes Confident or certain
64 Northeastern Highlands Predicted or probable
65 Connecticut River Basin and Highlands Confident or certain
66 The North Woods Confident or certain

National Mapping
ESLF Code (Ecological System Lifeform): 3209

West Landfire Legend: No
East Landfire Legend: No

Element Description Edition Date: 25Feb2010
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.

  • 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.

  • Swain, P. C., and J. B. Kearsley. 2014. Classification of the natural communities of Massachusetts. Version 2.0. Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. Westborough, MA. []

  • Thompson, E. H., and E. R. Sorenson. 2005. Wetland, woodland, wildland: A guide to the natural communities of Vermont. The Nature Conservancy and the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. University Press of New England, Hanover, NH. 456 pp.

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Data last updated: March 2019