Found only in the Deep South, longleaf pine woodlands have dwindled to about 3 percent of their former range. The beautiful and diverse ecosystem is among the richest in North America in the number of species it shelters, yet it is also critically endangered.
Longleaf pines grow to a height of 100 to 130 feet, with needles up to 18 inches long, and can live for 300 to 400 years. In forests, the trees grow widely scattered, creating an open, park-like environment, more like a savanna than a forest. This openness creates a forest floor where plants such as many-flowered grass pinks, trumpet pitcher plants, Venus flytraps, lavender ladies, and pineland bogbuttons grow. As many as 50 different species of wildflowers, shrubs, grasses, and ferns have been cataloged in just a single square meter.
Wildlife species living in longleaf forests include northern bobwhite quail, red-cockaded woodpeckers, gopher tortoises, striped newts, southeastern pocket gophers, pinewoods treefrogs, mimic glass lizards, pine and prairie warblers, eastern indigo snakes, Bachman's sparrows, and many more.
The longleaf is threatened by climate change, as well as invasive pests, extreme weather events, urban development, and habitat loss.
To combat the effects of climate change, we need to maintain and restore natural forest and wetland systems. Healthy forests and wetlands absorb flood waters, provide efficient water storage, and are critical for water purification and groundwater recharge, while also providing important fish and wildlife habitat.
As climate change leads to more evaporation from reservoirs and lakes, natural storage in ground water aquifers will become an increasingly attractive alternative. These ecosystems can also sequester carbon that would otherwise contribute to climate change. Efforts to conserve these natural lands would provide multiple safeguards to the Southeast.
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