Ecological Systems

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NatureServe resources on Ecological Systems

Rock Creek Park

Natural communities don’t exist in isolation, but rather occur in a larger context, called ecological systems. Ecological systems consist of groups of natural communities that tend to occur together and that share certain natural processes, such as flooding or fire. Rock Creek Park’s natural communities belong to four ecological systems.

Ecobit: Natural Processes are Bigger Than Natural Communities

Ecological systems, with their natural processes, provide a helpful context in which to understand natural communities and help predict what types of plants and animals might thrive there: You wouldn’t expect to find a water-loving, flood-adapted natural community on a dry ridgetop, nor would you expect to find a fire-adapted natural community along the banks of a river.

Explore these ecological systems of Rock Creek Park:

Mixed Oak / Heath ForestDry Oak – Pine Forest Ecological System

An ecological system of dry hilltops, ridges, and upper slopes. Why do the natural communities here contain relatively few plant species, and why are smooth cobble stones often exposed here around the base of old oak trees?

Hardwood Forest Ecological SystemHardwood Forest Ecological System

An ecological system of steep slopes above streams in Rock Creek Park. What characteristics unify the hardy plants that grow in the natural community found here?

old-age forest with sugar mapleMesic Hardwood Forest Ecological System

An ecological system of few extremes. Rock Creek Park's most widespread ecological system! Not too wet, not too dry, not too steep... What makes this the Goldilocks ecological system?

Stream and Riparian Ecological SystemStream and Riparian Ecological System

An ecological system of narrow floodplains. What are the benefits and risks for plants living in natural communities near running water in Rock Creek Park's Stream and Riparian Ecological System?