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Ecoregions of Massachusetts

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About the Ecoregions of Massachusetts

Massachusetts, a state in New England, can be divided into 3 main divisions, which can be in turn divided into 15 ecoregions. Overall, the state's boundaries correspond poorly to ecological boundaries, and all but one of its ecoregions extends well outside its borders.

Massachussets has a rich and diverse geology. It has resided at the edge of a continent for a long time, experiencing continental collisions and the resulting volcanic activity and metamorphosing of its rock, as well as the formation of a coastal plain. The entire state has been shaped by recent glaciation, which left abundant glacial till and formed numerous lakes and ponds and other features. At the same time, the rugged and often mountainous topography leads the underlying bedrock to reach the surface. The soils are formed on numerous substrates and thus can vary considerably over short distances, although poor, rocky soils are more common. The state has a humid continental climate with high rainfall, roughly equally distributed year-round; the climate is coldest inland and at high elevations, and tends slightly towards subtropical and oceanic in the southeast.

With the exception of open wetlands and a few areas of bare bedrock, the state was originally almost entirely forested. The forests here are transitional between broadleaf deciduous forests and northern forests of evergreen conifers. When European settlers reached New England, they almost completely cleared the state's forests, leaving only a few isolated patches of old growth, mostly in less accessible areas. Agriculture was attempted throughout most of the state, but as some areas were better-suited to Western agriculture than others, it was more quickly abandoned in the less-fertile regions. The current mosaic of forest cover and agriculture reflects regrowth of forests in areas where agriculture has been abandoned, a trend that is still continuing nowadays.

The three main divisions are between the cooler, more rugged, more conifer-dominated Northeastern Highlands, which cover mainly the higher elevations in the west and north of the state, the Northeastern Coastal Zone, covering most of the state, and the small cape cod region, which is part of the Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens.

Cape Cod is part of the Cape Cod/Long Island region, characterized by a milder, ocean-moderated climate and soils formed on glacial moraines and outwash. This region supports stunted growth of pine-oak woodlands that were naturally shaped by fire; some southerly species reach their northern limits here.

The Northeastern Coastal Zone is divided into seven distinct regions. The westernmost portion of this zone in the state, the Connecticut Valley, is a fertile agricultural region, also heavily populated. East of this, the Lower Worcester Plateau/Eastern Connecticut Upland is a flat, upland region with abundant wetlands. The Gulf of Maine Coastal Plain, a rugged, irregular coastal plain, lies northeast of here and covers much of eastern Massachusetts. South of this, extending more east-west, are the Southern New England Coastal Plains and Hills, a region that also makes up the bulk of Connecticut. Along the coast lies the Gulf of Maine Coastal Lowland, featuring tidal marshes. This region is interrupted by the Boston Basin, a heavily-urbanized area with a climate warmed by the urban heat island effect, and the only ecoregion contained entirely within the state. To the south of Boston, and west from Cape Cod, lies the Narragansett/Bristol Lowland, a lowland region extending into Rhode Island.

The Northeastern Highlands are also divided into seven regions. The Taconic Mountains mark the western border with New York state. East of this are the irregularly-shaped, low-lying, and agriculturally-fertile Western New England Marble Valleys. East of this lie the Berkshires, which in Massachusetts are divided into the higher-elevation Green Mountains/Berkshire Highlands in the north, and the Lower Berkshire Hills to the south. Farther east, the transitional zone between mountains and more lowland regions is divided into the Berkshire Transition in the south, and the Vermont Piedmont in the north. In the north-central part of the state, the Worcester/Monadnock Plateau, a relatively flat, high-elevation area, extends well into New Hampshire.

References

1. Griffith, G.E., Omernik, J.M., Bryce, S.A., Royte, J., Hoar, W.D., Homer, J.W., Keirstead, D., Metzler, K.J., and Hellyer, G. "Ecoregions of New England (Poster)", U.S. Geological Survey (2009) Web.