New England-Acadian forests

Please note: These biome and ecoregion pages (and associated data) are no longer being updated and may now be out of date. These pages and data exist for historical reference only. For updated bioregion data, please visit One Earth.

Now increasingly forested, parts of the landscape in this ecoregion have changed dramatically over the past 350 years. Once covered by primeval forest, farmers cleared the land for agriculture at such a pace that by the middle of the 19th century farm crops or pastures covered nearly three-quarters of the arable land in southern and central New England. One hundred years later, forests again blanketed 75 percent of New England–the result of an era of farm abandonment brought on by the opening of richer farmland to the west, the building of railroads, the Civil War, and even the California Gold Rush (Degraaf, 1991).

The New England/Acadian Forests form a mosaic of forest types and nonforest habitats covering the Eastern Townships and Beauce regions of Quebec, approximately 50 percent of New Brunswick, most of Nova Scotia, northwestern Massachusetts and extreme northwestern Connecticut, and all but the southwestern corner of Maine, the Champlain Valley of Vermont and the coastal plain of New Hampshire. All of this area is hilly to mountainous with the highest elevations occurring in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The mountains of this region contain a number of forest types; northern hardwoods/spruce forests predominate, and comprise roughly half of the forested landscape. Mature stands in many areas originated after extensive fires that were fueled by logging debris in the late 19th century. This led to fire-protection policies and the decline of many fire-dependent ecosystems (Niering, 1992).

Overall, this ecoregion can be described as a transition zone between the boreal spruce-fir forest to the north and the deciduous forest to the south, with the Atlantic Ocean strongly influencing vegetation dynamics of the ecoregion, especially in coastal areas. Along the Fundy Coast, high winds, cooler summers and strongly broken topography with many areas of shallow soil result in a greater occurrence of conifer-dominated forests. On a few of the highest mountain peaks (which in New England were not separated out of this ecoregion as were the Cape Breton Highlands of Nova Scotia and the Christmas Mountains of New Brunswick in Canada), numerous arctic species occur as disjunct populations. This is true of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and Mount Washington in particular where a tundra-like alpine meadow occurs (Yahner 1995). Wide distribution of red spruce (Picea rubens) and red pine (Pinus resinosa) distinguish the ecoregion from the predominantly deciduous woodlands of the Great Lakes Lowland Forests and the mixed woods of the Eastern Forest/Boreal Transition area. Some combination of sugar maple (Acer saccharum), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) characterize most hardwood forests. The forests vary with elevation, with valleys containing hardwood forest with an admixture of eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and low mountain slopes supporting a mixed forest of red spruce, balsam fir (Abies balsamea), maple, beech, birch, white spruce (P. glauca), and red pine. Eastern hemlock and eastern white pine (P. strobus) are also present. Conifers also dominate low elevation areas with shallow soils. The compensating effect of latitude is apparent in the altitudinal limits of zonation, which rise in elevation as one moves south.

Above the mixed forest stands lie pure stands of balsam fir and red spruce, which devolve into krummholz at higher elevations. In Canada, this ecoregion encompasses part of the Appalachian Mountain complex. To the south of the St. Lawrence River, the Appalachian complex is dominated by folded Palaeozoic sandstones and quartzites. The average elevation is 400 m asl, but peaks of 600 m asl are common. The Sutton Mountains in the south are a continuation of the Green Mountains of Vermont, and the Megantic Hills are a continuation of the White Mountains of New England. Toward the east, the uniform Chaleur Uplands and lower elevations of the New Brunswick Highlands range from 200-500 m asl. The uplands have developed on folded sedimentary and igneous Palaeozoic strata, and increase in elevation to the east, becoming more rugged and dissected. In the southern New Brunswick uplands, the terrain decreases in elevation and levels out to the west, where rolling and hummocky stony till plains are predominate. The Fundy Coast bedrock is composed of Proterozoic, Palaeozoic, and Mesozoic strata which rises from sea level to 215 m asl. The terrain along the Fundy Coast is variable, including the rolling to steep highlands, to plains. The Nova Scotia uplands consist of folded Palaeozoic slates and quartzites that form broad, sloping plains. Toward central Nova Scotia, the uplands are elevated and underlain by granitic batholith. The Atlantic Coast is also underlain by Palaeozoic metamorphics and granites. The ecoregion also includes the Nova Scotia Highlands, which encompass the Cobequid Mountains to the west, Antigonish Highlands in the centre, and the dissected Cape Breton hills in the northeast which are remnant of a Cretaceous peneplain surface, composed of Palaeozoic metamorphics and Proterozoic intrusives and volcanics (ESWG 1995).

Glaciers shaped the distinctive topography of mountains and plateaus characteristic of this ecoregion, and also determined the mosaic of soil and forest types. The mountains and plateaus are underlain by granite and metamorphic rocks and are often thinly mantled by glacial till. Since soils did not develop in place, this ecoregion is not characterized by infertile uplands grading into fertile valleys. Often the best soils for forest development consist of till deposited on midslopes of hills and mountains (Degraaf, 1991). Many glacially broadened valleys have glacial outwash deposits with poor soils and contain numerous swamps and lakes.

The climate of this ecoregion is characterized by warm, moist summers and cold, snowy winters. Because maritime air masses have year-round access to the eastern seaboard, precipitation is evenly distributed throughout the year, unlike the Allegheny Highlands forests or the Eastern Great Lakes lowland forest. Mean annual precipitation is relatively high, ranging from 1000-1600 mm, increasing toward the Atlantic coast and at higher elevations. In the Canadian portion of the ecoregion, mean annual temperatures range from 3°C to 6.5°C, rising in the east, and mean summer temperature is 14.5°C. Mean winter temperature within this region ranges considerably, from -7.5°C in the northern New Brunswick Uplands to -1.5°C along the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia (ESWG 1995).

Fire plays a much less important role in the northern hardwood forests characteristic of this ecoregion, where spring and fall seasons are short, than in the oak-dominated forests of ecoregions further to the south. Fire can be a crucial factor in areas where red spruce and balsam fir intermingle with the hardwoods, as in parts of northern New England and the Adirondacks, especially during dry periods (Niering, 1992). Fire probably plays the most important role in forest dynamics of the region. Fires tend to be on the order of 10 to 100 km2 in New Brunswick, for example, although there has been active fire suppression for many decades. Periodic blowdowns, sometimes on very large scales, also play a role in forest dynamics. Where areas border the Atlantic Ocean, sea salt spray and wind strongly influence forest dynamics.

  • Scientific Code
  • Ecoregion Category
  • Size
    91,700 square miles
  • Status
  • Habitats

Biological Distinctiveness
The New England/Acadian forests are a moderately rich example of temperate broadleaf and mixed forests. The mosaic of forest types and habitats support 225 bird species, making these forests the second-richest ecoregion within the temperate broadleaf and mixed forests MHT, and among the 20 richest ecoregions in the continental United States and Canada. For example, mature northern hardwood stands in New England commonly contain softwoods–usually red spruce, eastern hemlock, or white pine–and as a result they also contain bird species associated with coniferous forests, such as red-breasted nuthatches (Sitta canadensis), golden-crowned kinglets (Regulus satrapa), and northern parula warblers (Parula americana) (Niering, 1992). New England/Acadian forests contain 14 species of conifers, more than any other ecoregion within this major habitat type save for the Appalachian/Blue Ridge Forests and the Southeastern Mixed Forests.

Characteristic mammals include moose (Alces alces), black bear (Ursus americanus), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus), porcupine (Erithyzon dorsatum), fisher (Martes pennanti), beaver (Castor canadensis), bobcat (Lynx rufus), marten (Martes americana), muskrat (Ondatra zibethica), and raccoon (Procyon lotor), although some of these species are less common in the southern parts of the ecoregion. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) have expanded northward in this ecoregion and displaced the woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus ssp. caribou) from the northern parts of the ecoregion. Coyotes (Canis latrans) have recently replaced wolves, which were eradicated from this ecoregion in historical times. Numerous seabirds and migratory shorebirds inhabit the salt marshes and tidal flats along the coasts in the northern parts of the ecoregion.

This ecoregion contains several rare ecological or evolutionary phenomena including major areas of serpentine rocks and associated rare vegetation, raised peat bogs, ribbed fens, and coastal raised peatlands. Western Massachusetts and eastern New York have unusual fen ecosystems, which support populations of bog turtles (Clemmys muhlenbergi) The southern most reticulated bog in eastern North America reportedly occurs in Frontenac Park, Quebec. Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) reach their highest breeding density in eastern North America (Nova Scotia). There are numerous Atlantic coastal plain plant species at their northern limits and the northeastern limits of several deciduous tree species and forest communities with southern affinity can also be found within the ecoregion. Typical of the transitional nature of this ecoregion, the southernmost outliers of arctic vegetation in eastern North America also occur here. The ecoregion has many fast-flowing, cold water rocky rivers with highly fluctuating water levels that give rise to interesting floral and faunal communities.

Conservation Status

Habitat Loss
Little intact habitat remains in this ecoregion, with only about 5 percent of the New England Acadian forest in presettlement condition. Nearly all of the ecoregion shows some signs of human activity. In Canada, estimates were placed at less than 5 percent intact with at least 50 percent of the ecoregion classed as heavily altered. Logging is the main cause of habitat loss. Many areas are now undergoing a third forest cutting rotation. The most natural areas tend to be those that are difficult to access or occur at high elevations.

Agriculture is extensive in some jurisdictions such as western New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Vermont. Some farmland has been abandoned this century and old-field succession is gradually returning these areas to forest cover. In areas of higher elevation in New England and Quebec, ski-hill development has had a severe impact on many mountains, while summer home development along with urban and suburban development (in the Halifax area) are increasing. These tend to impact the valley lands most significantly. Mining is a major land use in parts of the ecoregion in Quebec (Talc, Marble, Asbestos, Granite) and interest remains high for the extensive Serpentine areas of Quebec.

Remaining Blocks of Intact Habitat
Several relatively large blocks of more or less intact habitat remain, as do a number of smaller patches. Important blocks of old-growth forest in order of decreasing size include:

•Mahoosuc Mountains - Maine
•Tobeatic-Kejimikujik - Nova Scotia (more than 1,000 km2)
•Baxter State Park - Maine (97 km2 (24,000 acres) of unlogged spruce/fir within a 810 km2 (200,000) acre park)
•Big Reed Forest - Maine (20 km2 (5,000 acres) in Piscataquis County lowlands)
•Nash Stream Forest - New Hampshire - 32 km2 (8,000 acres)
•White Mountains - New Hampshire
•Green Mountains - Vermont
•Mont Orford - Quebec
•Frontenac Provincial Park - Quebec
•Mont Megantic - Quebec
•Bic Provincial Park - Quebec
•Fundy National Park - New Brunswick
•Cape Breton Highlands National Park - northern Nova Scotia
Degree of Fragmentation
Habitat fragmentation is relatively low in the New England Acadian forests. More than half of all fragments are clustered to some degree, and connected within a matrix of clearcut areas. The degree of fragmentation is probably higher in Nova Scotia and western New Brunswick/eastern Maine than in other areas of this ecoregion.

Degree of Protection
The most important protected areas in this ecoregion include:

•White Mountains National Forest - New Hampshire
•important areas within the White Mountains are the Great Gulf Wilderness, Dry River Wilderness, Crawford Notch, Sandwich Range Wilderness, Nancy Brook RNA
•Franconia Notch State Park - New Hampshire
•Lafayette Brook Scenic Area - New Hampshire
•Baxter State Park - central Maine
•Big Reed Forest Reserve - Maine
•Shawangunk Mountains Dwarf Pine Plains - mostly in the Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park - New York
•Aiken, Lye Brook and Bristol Cliffs Wilderness Areas in Green Mountain National Forest - Vermont
•Mt. Mansfield State Forest - Vermont
•Camels Hump State Forest - Vermont
•Putnam State Forest - Vermont
•Victory State Forest - Vermont
•Kejimkujik National Park + Tobeatic Provincial Protected Area - Nova Scotia - 1,371.59 km2
•Cape Breton Highlands National Park - Nova Scotia (75% of area = lowlands + Polletts Cove-Aspy Forest + Margaree River) - 1,050 km2
•Fundy National Park - New Brunswick - 205.9 km2
•Bonnet Lake Barrens + Canso Coastal Barrens - Nova Scotia - 193.47 km2
•Tidney River - Nova Scotia - 188 km2
•Tangier Grand Lake - Nova Scotia - 157.78 km2
•Frontenac Provincial Park - Quebec - 155.30 km2
•Clattenburgh Brook + Waverley - Salmon River Long Lake - Nova Scotia - 111.18 km2
•Cloud Lake - Nova Scotia - 108.42 km2
•Gabarus Provincial Protected Area + Louisbourg National Historic Park - Nova Scotia - 96.13 km2
•Economy River + Portapique River - Nova Scotia - 81.42 km2
•Boggy Lake + Alder Grounds + Big Bog - Nova Scotia -72.27 km2
•French River - Nova Scotia - 72.12 km2
•Mont Orford Provincial Park - Quebec - 58.4 km2
•Middle River Framboise - Nova Scotia - 57.96 km2
•Ogden Round Lake, Nova Scotia - 57.20 km2
•Terence Bay - Nova Scotia - 56.64 km2
•Middle River - Nova Scotia - 54.71 km2
•Mont Megantic Provincial Park - Quebec - 54.70 km2
•Lake Rossignol - Nova Scotia - 52.62 km2
•White Lake, Nova Scotia - 45.58 km2
•North River - Nova Scotia - 43.34 km2
•Bowers Meadows - Nova Scotia - 43.28 km2
•Bic Provincial Park - Quebec - 33.20 km2
•Nash Stream Forest - New Hampshire - approx. 32.38 km2
•Liscomb River, Nova Scotia - 30.53 km2
•Cape Chignecto Provincial Park - Nova Scotia - 30 km2

Types and Severity of Threats
The major conversion and degradation threats to this ecoregion are development and logging. Development for second homes and ecotourism is a particular problem in Quebec and in the vicinity of other urban centres. Development and population growth is also a significant threat in northeastern Vermont. Logging remains an important industry in Maine, and may alter large areas of habitat in that state as well as in the provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick. High-intensity recreational development (e.g. ski hills) and mining (esp. in Quebec) combine to further reduce the remaining extent of natural habitat in this ecoregion.

Suite of Priority Activities to Enhance Biodiversity Conservation

•Ensure that examples of all landscape types, all natural community types, and all native species are well-represented, in all their natural variability, in conservation areas throughout the ecoregion.
•Expand North Woods preserve around Baxter State Park in north-central Maine through the establishment of the Maine Woods National Park. Together with Baxter State Park the area would create a park covering 3.2 million acres.
•Expand the preserve around the Cobscook Bay in Maine
•Expand existing conservation activities in Maine's Mattagodus Wetlands.
•Work to control housing development in Vermont's North East Kingdom.
•Work with private timber industries to promote conservation-minded activities.
•Encourage state and national governments to buy land that timber companies are willing to sell.
•Control exotics. During the last few decades certain introduced shrubs, vines, and trees such as Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), Oriental bitterwseet (Celastrus orbiculatus), shrub honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.), multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) and Norway maple (Acer platanoides) have become serious competitors in many post-agricultural and forest communities in New England. Some of these exotics may bring about the demise of native species and may also replace native plant cover. Exotics are a particularly severe threat in small, fragmented forests in urban and developed areas (Niering, 1992).
•Pursue private stewardship for rich hardwood stands and white cedar wetlands along the Saint John River and its tributaries in New Brunswick.
•More conservation effort is required for riparian zones generally and the Bay of Fundy shoreline in New Brunswick.
•Expand protection around Schenob Brook Wetlands (Berkshires) in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
•Increase conservation efforts for Mount Sutton mountains in Quebec.
•Protect Mount Gosford and Marble Hill (Twin Peaks on the Quebec - Maine border).
•The northern part of the Appalachian Mountains in Quebec needs serious conservation attention.
•Pursue final designation of 31 new conservation sites recently announced in Nova Scotia.
•More coastal protected areas needed in Nova Scotia.
•Need for better linkages (improved forestry practices) for lands between core protected areas, Nova Scotia.
•An increase in the deciduous forest cover is needed, Nova Scotia.
•New Brunswick needs to come forward with a protected areas system plan that includes candidate sites.
•More attention is required to conserve old-growth forests, New Brunswick.
Conservation Partners

•The Appalachian Mountain Club
•Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Nova Scotia Chapter
•Conservation Council of New Brunswick
•Ecology Action Centre
•Ford Alward Naturalist Association
•Friends of Nature Conservation Society
•Fundy Guild
•Le Centre de Donnees sur le Patrimoine
•Maine Natural Areas Program
•Margaree Environmental Protection Association
•Moncton Naturalists’ Club
•Nature Conservancy of Canada, Atlantic Canada
•The Nature Conservancy
•The Nature Conservancy - Eastern Regional Office
•The Nature Conservancy of Maine
•The Nature Conservancy of Massachusetts
•The Nature Conservancy of New Hampshire
•The Nature Conservancy of Vermont
•The Nature Conservancy, QuebecNature Trust of New Brunswick
•Naturel du Quebec
•New Brunswick Federation of Naturalists
•New Brunswick Protected Natural Areas Coalition
•New Hampshire Natural Heritage Inventory
•Northern Appalachian Restoration Project
•Nova Scotia Nature Trust
•Nova Scotia Wild Flora Society
•PENS - Parc d’environnement naturel de Sutton
•Regroupement National des Conseils Régionaux de l'Environnement du Québec (RNCREQ)
•Restore the Northwoods
•Save Our Shores
•Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests
•UQCN - Union Québecoise pour la Conservation de la Nature
•Vermont Nongame & Natural Heritage Program
•World Wildlife Fund Canada, Quebec Region
Relationship to other classification schemes
The New England/Acadian forests are demarcated from the Northeastern Coastal forests [NA0411] to the south, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Eastern Canadian forests [NA0408] and Eastern Canadian Forests [NA0605] to the north by potential vegetation types (Küchler 1985) and elevation respectively. The Northeastern Coastal forests ecoregion is more dominated by oaks and occurs on the coastal plain. The New England/Acadian forest ecoregion is largely similar to Omernik’s northeastern highlands, though it has been extended into similar areas of Canada. Omernik includes the Adirondacks as a disjunct part of the northeastern highlands, while we believe them to be more similar to the Eastern Forests/Boreal Transition [NA0406]. Bailey also extends this ecoregion further west into the Adirondacks.

In Canada, the New England/Acadian Forest ecoregion extends through southern Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. This ecoregion incorporates a number of the Terrestrial Ecoregions of Canada: the southern part of the Appalachians, the Northern and Southern New Brunswick Uplands, the Saint John River Valley, the Southwest and South-Central Nova Scotia Uplands, the Nova Scotia Highlands, and the Atlantic and Fundy Coasts (TEC 117, 118, 120, 121, 123-125, 127 and 128) (ESWG 1995). Forest cover here is primarily Acadian, including the Upper Miramichi-Tobique, Carleton, South Atlantic Shore, East Atlantic Shore, Cape Breton-Antigonish, Fundy Coast, Southern Uplands, Atlantic Uplands and Cobequid sections (2, 4, 5a, 5b, 7, 9, 10, 11 and 13) (Rowe 1972).

Prepared by: M. Davis, L. Gratton, J. Adams, J. Goltz, C. Stewart, S. Buttrick, N. Zinger, K. Kavanagh, M. Sims, G. Mann.