Appalachian Plateau Animals and Plants

Appalachian Plateau Animals and Plants
••• tornado98/iStock/Getty Images

The Appalachian Mountains of eastern North America are split into several different provinces by geologic character. Among these is the Appalachian Plateau province, which, like the other sections of this ancient mountain belt, contains significant biodiversity.


The broader Appalachian Mountains, one of the world’s oldest uplifts, dominate much of the eastern United States and a portion of southeastern Canada. The Appalachian Plateau is the farthest west of the Appalachian provinces and specifically runs from New York southwestward to northern Alabama. The valley and ridge province borders it at its eastern edge.

The plateau, defined mostly by Paleozoic sedimentary rocks, contains both rolling upland and eroded areas of significant relief, such as the Catskill, Pocono, Allegheny, and Cumberland mountains. Elevations typically range from 1,000 to 4,500 feet, with the eastern scarp being the highest portion.


Between these two ecological extremes are other vegetation zones: northern hardwood, oak-hickory, beech-maple, pine-oak, and northern riverine forests, as John C. Kricher and Gordon Morrison define them in their "Field Guide to Eastern Forests" (1998). The development of these vegetation aggregations, as well as more restricted micro-habitats such as:

  • elevation
  • slope
  • aspect
  • moisture


The largest mammals of the Appalachian Plateau are black bears and white-tailed deer, both of which are quite widespread and common. The former, restricted to North America, is today the most numerous bear species remaining in the world. Exceptional male black bears may tip the scales at over 800 pounds, but more typically adults weigh between 150 and 450 pounds. Like most of their relatives, black bears are devotedly omnivorous: They will feast on acorns and other mast nuts, shatter fallen logs to slurp up ants and grubs, nibble on berries and forbs, and, occasionally, prey on deer fawns and feral hogs. White-tailed deer favor lower forests and meadows and join the bears in mast harvest.

Other mammals include red and gray foxes, bobcats, fishers, raccoons, opossums, cottontails, and Seminole bats.


The upper-elevation forests of the Appalachian Plateaus bring bird species more associated with northern latitudes to the southern United States, such as ruffed grouse and common ravens. The diversity of habitats available along the Appalachian slope gradient results in significant avian diversity. Warblers flitter in the brush, wild turkeys stalk through woodland shadows, red-shouldered hawks stand sentinel in the canopy, and big, flashy pileated woodpeckers call wildly in between bouts of trunk-hammering.

Reptiles and Amphibians

The Appalachian Mountains as a whole contain North America’s greatest diversity of salamanders; some 27 species inhabit the Southern Appalachians, where this variety reaches its zenith. One of the most striking of the Appalachian Plateau’s amphibians is the continent’s biggest salamander, the hellbender. This relative behemoth, which may exceed two feet in length, favors fast-flowing streams.

Reptiles range from common musk turtles and fence lizards to a variety of snakes, including venomous timber rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths.

Related Articles

Ecosystem Diversity in Louisiana
The Mozambique Ecosystem
Animals & Plants Found in the Appalachian Mountains
Native Animals & Plants Found in Mississippi
Animals & Plants That Live on Mountains
Facts About Mountains in Mexico
Animals & Plants in the Regions of Georgia
Types of Animals in the Temperate Woodland & Shrubland
Mammals Found in Louisiana
The Ecosystems of Ghana
Landforms That the US & Canada Share
What Kind of Deer Are in Texas?
Plants and Animals in the Netherlands
Types of Ecosystems in Texas
Physical Features of the Northeast
The Types of Wild Cats in Massachusetts
What Are the Physical Characteristics of the Atlantic...
Types of Arizona Wild Cats
Wild Animals Found in Virginia
A List of Landforms in the Tropical Region