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Ecoregions of New Jersey

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About the Ecoregions of New Jersey

New Jersey is the fourth-smallest US state by area, located on the east coast, but it spans a large number of ecoregions relative to its size. The south of the state, located on the coastal plain, is more ecologically-cohesive than the north, where the state's boundaries cut across part of the Northern Piedmont, Northeastern Highlands, and the northeastern end of the Ridge and Valley system of the Appalachians.

Most of the state has a humid subtropical climate, except for the far north of the state, where both higher elevations and the more northerly and inland location lead to cooler temperatures and more continental influence, producing a humid continental climate. There is little seasonality of precipitation, except for a slight decrease in total precipitation in the coldest parts of winter.

The largest ecoregion, making up most of the southern part of the state, and located entirely within the state, is the Pine Barrens. This area, which makes up a large portion of the state's total forests, is characterized by soils that do not retain water, and thus support fire-prone ecosystems populated with drought-adapted plants, unusual for an area with such high humidity and rainfall. Just inland of this is the more fertile Inner Coastal Plain, another area restricted entirely to New Jersey, and an area almost entirely taken up by agriculture and suburbanization.

The Atlantic coast has Barrier Islands and Coastal Marshes which are similar to those extending farther north and south, and the area of south Jersey along the Delaware river and bay has a narrow strip of the Delaware River Terraces and Uplands, a region that also contains the opposite banks of the river and bay, located in Delaware and Pennsylvania. The Barrier Islands in New Jersey are heavily developed for residential and recreational use, but there are some areas of preserved wetland behind them.

The north of the state is more geologically and ecologically diverse, crossing many layers of the Appalachians, and also crossing the northern limit of the recent Wisconsin glaciation.

In the north-central part of the state, some of the key ecological boundaries can be obscured by heavy urbanization, especially in the region closest to New York City. This region is unfortunately home to some of the most heavily altered and degraded regions in North America, including the Hackensack Meadowlands, which extend onto Staten Island, and the heavily-suburbanized Glaciated Triassic Lowlands, which extend into New York state. Slightly inland and farther from the city, and also contained entirely within New Jersey, the Passaic Basin Freshwater Wetlands are relatively more intact. Throughout this region, the greatest forest cover can be found on the Trap Rock and Conglomerate Uplands, a rugged upland area interspersed throughout the region, where the steep topography hinders building and agriculture.

Southwest of the limit of glaciation, the unglaciated Triassic Lowlands, a region that extends well outside this state, also covers a good portion of the state, and is covered by a mosaic of farmland and suburban development, with little forest cover remaining.

The northernmost part of the the state has more rugged topography, which has preserved greater forest cover. The Reading Prong formation is quite thick in New Jersey, and is divided into two sections, the more northerly Glaciated Reading Prong/Hudson Highlands, and the more southerly, unglaciated Reading Prong. Interspersed in the western part of the Reading Prong lie the Northern Limestone/Dolomite Valleys, the most fertile farming area in the state.

The far northwest of the state is marked by a number of northeast-southeast layers that run parallel to the state's northwestern border, the Delaware river: closest to the river are the rather diverse Northern Glaciated Limestone Ridges, Valleys, and Terraces, followed by the very rugged Northern Glaciated Ridges, which support unique ecosystems adapted to thin, dry, irregular soils. Southeast of this are the fairly-populated Northern Glaciated Shale and Slate Valleys and the more agriculturally-fertile Northern Glaciated Limestone Valleys.