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Southern Appalachian Biosphere Reserve, United States of America

The Southern Appalachian Biosphere Reserve is situated within the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains, a series of ancient mountain ranges in six states, including the highland portions of northern Georgia, northeastern Alabama, western South Carolina, eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, and southwestern Virginia. In addition to the Biosphere Reserve units—Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Oak Ridge National Environmental Research Park, Coweeta Hydrological Laboratory, Mt. Mitchell State Park, and Grandfather Mountain State Park—this region hosts a variety of national and state parks, recreational and wildlife areas, national and state forests, experimental forest, lands administered by the Tennessee Valley Authority, and Cherokee Indian lands.

Designation date: 1988


Regional network:  EuroMab

Ecosystem-based network: 




    Surface : 15,195,341 ha

    • Core area(s): 235,341 ha
    • Buffer zone(s): N/A
    • Transition zone(s): 14,960,000 ha

    Location: 35° to 36°N, 83° to 84°W

    Administrative Authorities

    Evin Carter
    Oak Ridge National Laboratory
    United States of America

    Tel.: +1 (865) 341-0039


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    Ecological Characteristics

    The Southern Appalachian Mountains are a major North American biome, characterized by complex, interconnected landscapes with steep, terrain-driven biophysical gradients with an origin in Pleistocene glacial history (Bossu et al. 2013; Kozak & Wiens 2010). It contains ~80 species of amphibians and reptiles, 175 species of terrestrial birds, 65 species of mammals, 2,250 species of vascular plants, and possibly as many as 25,000 species of invertebrates.

    At 5,946 feet, Grandfather Mountain is the highest peak on the Blue Ridge Escarpment. Defined by sharp, rocky peaks, Grandfather Mountain supports excellent occurrences of many rare high elevation community types and an exemplary assemblage of rare plant and animal species. Federally Endangered plant species include spreading avens (Geum radiatum) and Roan Mountain bluet (Houstonia Montana). Federally Threatened plant species include Heller’s blazing-star (Liatris helleri) and Blue Ridge goldenrod (Solidago spithameaea). Federal Species of Concern include mountain bittercress (Cardamine clematitis), tall larkspur (Delphinium exaltatum), Carolina saxifrage (Saxifraga caroliniana), Gray’s lily (Lilium grayi), and a liverwort (Sphenolobopsis pearsonii). Federally Endangered animal species include Virginia big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii virginianus), Carolina northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus coloratus), and spruce-fir moss spider (Michrohexura montivaga). Federal Species of Concern animal species include eastern small-footed myotis (Myotis leibii), Appalachian cottontail (Sylvilagus obscures), Alleghany woodrat (Neotoma magister), southern water shrew (Sorex palustris punctulatus), Southern Appalachian northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus), and Southern Appalachian black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus practica).


    Socio-Economic Characteristics

    Regional population growth in the region exceeds the national average but is unevenly distributed. Good health care facilities and recreational opportunities are attracting retirees. Younger, well-educated people are finding jobs in cities. However, many of the long-term residents are finding fewer job opportunities as the traditional resource extraction and textile industries decline. These factors contribute to poorly planned land development and degradation of natural resources. Growing tourism pressure, urbanization, air and water pollution, changing patterns of land use, fragmentation of wildlife habitats, and invasion of alien species are main challenges which faces the region today.


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    Last updated: October 2022