Natural Community Misfits (within a park)

(or, Places That Don't Fit the Natural Community Descriptions)

Sometimes what you're seeing along a trail doesn't look like any of the natural communities mapped locally. Why?

A transitional area between Oak - Beech / Heath Forest and Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest at Rock Creek Park in D.C.
Photographer: Sam Sheline
1. Transitions (Ecotones). Usually, there’s not a sharp and obvious boundary between one natural community and another, even though the vegetation map makes it look like there is. The area of transition between two natural communities is called an ecotone, and it’s an area that may contain a combination of features from more than one natural community. Don't be surprised to find yourself in one of these transitional areas quite often as you hike up and down hills on a trail.

2. Semi-natural communities. Some areas are still growing back from historic land disturbances (say, farming, intense fire, or unusually heavy storm damage). Read about the different semi-natural communities in this park, and see if one fits.

3. Mapping limits. Rules limit how detailed maps are. Most maps don't show tiny patches of unique vegetation (say, under 1 acre or 1/2 hectare).

4. Undiscovered natural communities. Occasionally, new finds lead ecologists to define a new natural community for a park.

So if what you're seeing doesn't fit one of the natural communities described, why do YOU suppose that is?