Plants & Wildlife

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is committed to protecting the natural diversity of the Trail for generations to come. We hope the images on these pages will help you identify a few of the species you may find in your travels on the Trail, and also build an understanding of their importance in today's environment.

The Appalachian Mountains stretch from Alabama in the United States to New Brunswick in Canada in a north-south alignment that is thought to have enabled species migration throughout prehistoric eras. This vast, ancient chain of mountains helped shape the natural history of North America by providing gradients in elevation, latitude and moisture that allowed species to persist through periods of climate change. Peaks and gorges provided isolated climatic refuges for boreal and subtropical species respectively.

Today, the Appalachians hold one of the world's richest assemblages of temperate zone species. In fact, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail may contain the greatest biodiversity of any unit of the National Park Service.

The Southern Appalachians, never transformed by glaciers, are home to terminally slow organisms including snails, vernal herbaceous plants and salamanders. Rivers drain to the south in the Southern Appalachians, which allowed some species to escape Ice Age extermination, and today the region has a legendary richness of fish, mussel and crayfish species. Farther north along the Trail corridor it is possible to find rare bird species including Bicknell's Thrush. The Appalachian Trail's protected corridor anchors the nation's Eastern Forest block, which is vital to the nation not only ecologically but also socio-economically. Those forests in turn serve to protect the watersheds that service a significant percentage of the population of the United States.