The ecosystems of the Southeast range from the spruce–fir forests of the highest mountains east of the Mississippi River to the tropical hardwood hammocks of southernmost Florida. A tremendous diversity of ecosystems lies between these extremes: the sawgrass marshes, mangrove forests, and pine rockland of south Florida; the carnivorous plant wetlands, baldcypress swamps, live oak maritime forests, longleaf pine savannas, and dunes of the Coastal Plain; the oak–hickory forests, bottomland forests, prairies, glades, and barrens of the Piedmont and continental interior; the springs and extensive cave systems of limestone areas; and the old-growth deciduous and hemlock forests, cliffs, rocky stream gorges, and grassy and heath balds of the southern Appalachian Mountains. Although broad-scale climatic patterns explain much of this diversity, the Southeast’s most distinctive characteristic is diversity at small scales. Variation in topography determines soil moisture and temperature regime
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