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Biodiversity "Hotspot"

The Appalachian LCC contains the most significant biodiversity “hotspot” east of the Rocky Mountains and is the largest contiguous hot spot area in the nation.   The Central and Southern Appalachians are unrivaled in the U.S. for aquatic species diversity and comparable only to China for forest diversity.  Approximately 198 species in this proposed LCC are federally listed as threatened or endangered; of these 108 or 54% are aquatic species (primarily mussels and fish).  The Appalachian Mountains are also a critical migration corridor for over 64 high priority migratory bird species.

The Appalachian Mountains stretch from the Canadian Maritime provinces southwest to central Alabama in a 1500-mile unbroken chain. Characterized by its mountainous geography rich in biodiversity and unique culture, the chain of mountains can be divided along geographic and ecological lines into three sections - Northern, Central and Southern. The Central and Southern Appalachians and associated landforms serve as the focal point of the Appalachian Landscape Conservation Cooperative stretching from New York to Alabama.

The region’s diverse topography with long broad ridges, steep slopes, deep gorges and wide intermountain valleys, and geologic stability over long periods of evolutionary history has resulted in a broad range of microhabitats and the presence of numerous relict species and communities. A host of plants, invertebrates, salamanders, crayfish, freshwater mussels and fish are restricted to single watersheds or peaks due to millions of years of isolation and favorable conditions.  Over 6,300 plant species are known from the region.  The Appalachian Mountains are among the richest of temperate areas, providing habitat for over 250 birds, 78 mammals, 58 reptiles and 76 amphibians (Pickering et al. 2002).  One-third of the known salamander species are found in North America; the highest concentration of these is found in the Appalachian Mountains region.  A new species of the lungless salamander family Plethodontidae was discovered in the Appalachian foothills of northern Georgia in 2007 (Camp et al. 2009).  This miniature species, c. 25–26mm (adult standard length), is so distinctive genetically and morphologically that it warranted a new genus, the first new genus of amphibian described from the U.S. in nearly 50 years.  The Southern Appalachians are a global hotspot for aquatic species.  Mussel, fish and crayfish richness is unparalleled, in part because streams and rivers drain toward the south, allowing aquatic species to persist during successive glaciations.  As a measure of aquatic species richness, 290 fish species are known from Tennessee, more than all of Europe (Stein et al. 2000).

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