The six-county Triangle region is home to a wide variety of plant and animal species. The region
is home to over 40 mammalian species, 117 avian species, 50 reptiles and 39 amphibian species. The
region has of 34 state listed animal species, 8 federally endangered species and 33 federal species of
County Inventories
All six of the Triangle Counties have completed county inventories done by the Natural Heritage
Program. The NHP documents the occurrence and status of rare plants and animals in North Carolina and
also documents the best examples of the more than 100 natural community types where they occur in the
state. The county governments in the Triangle use the county inventories to balance the need for growth
with environmental concerns. The inventories also have management and protection recommendations for
the significant natural heritage sites in each county.
Sidebar – TLC’s Goals
Wildlife Habitat
Natural areas and well-managed forests support healthy ecosystems and biodiversity in our region.
Wildlife habitat balances our built environment and provides opportunities for scientific research and
educational experiences. Human activities are disrupting wildlife habitat and unalterably changing the
natural world that we depend on for food, air, and water.
TLC will support wildlife habitat by:
• identifying and conserving important natural areas and managed forests
• requiring conservation plans on all privately owned natural areas and managed forests conserved by
TLC, and encouraging other private landowners to manage their land likewise
• ensuring that scientists and educators have access to natural areas for learning.
Biodiversity, the full spectrum of life forms and the ecological processes that support them,
depends on the sustainability of diverse ecosystems, such as the patchwork of forests, agricultural lands,
bluffs, coastal zones and aquatic communities present in the Triangle. Biodiversity is usually considered
at three different levels: genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity.
Genetic diversity refers to the variability of genes within a species and variations among distinct
populations of the same species. Need something more specific about genetic diversity
Species diversity refers to the variety of plant and animal species and can be measured in a
number of ways. Species richness, abundance and taxonomic diversity are the most common ways to
measure species diversity. Species richness refers to the number of species found in a defined area.
Species abundance measures the relative numbers among species in a defined area. Taxonomic diversity
considers the genetic relationships between species. Different measures of diversity among species
reflect the variety of characteristics and evolutionary relationships.
Ecosystem diversity refers to the broad differences between ecosystem types, and variety of
habitats and natural processes such as water flow. Insert language here about the diversity of natural
communities in the Triangle The more types of habitat present, the greater number of species present, i.e.
more species diversity. Aside from the obvious role in supporting the Triangle’s wildlife, land cover
vegetation has many other values: watershed protection, recreational opportunities, provisioning of raw
materials, climate control, release of oxygen to the air, and pleasing landscapes.
Though not a native land cover, cultivated agricultural lands steve is going to find some info
about agricultural programs USDA etc may also support extensive wildlife populations. Some
wildlife species, such as white-tailed deer, have adapted so they can survive in virtually any habitat. Other
wildlife species require a very select ecological niche, or even a single “host” plant species. For example,
the Red Cockaded Woodpecker, a federally listed endangered species, prefers to nest in cavities occurring
in stands of longleaf pine in the sandhills of Johnston County.The red-cockaded woodpecker is federally
listed in all six Triangle counties, but is only currently found in Johnston County. The rarest habitat types
often harbor remaining populations of many of the state’s endangered and threatened species.
The Triangle has nine major upland ecological communities: mixed oak forest, oak-hickory-pine
forest, southern floodplain forest, mesic pine flatwoods, oak-hickory forest, mesic mixed hardwood
forest, pine/scrub oak sandhill, xeric sandhill scrub, and streambed pocosin. Each supports a general
vegetation cover type, which provides habitat, food, and shelter for a distinct group of wildlife species.
Source: Photo by Jeff Pippen
Sidebar – losing ground
Most ecosystems in the world are experiencing biodiversity loss that can be attributed to human
expansion. As the Triangle region develops, some last known instances of species of concern like the
Bog Spicebush (above), or Michaux’s Sumac in Wake County, have been paved over to make room for
the Northern Wake Expressway.
The draining of the New Hope bottomlands in Chatham County destroyed the last known habitat for
black bears that resided in the Triangle. Black bears require large home ranges and are now only
infrequent visitors throughout the Triangle.
Why do we care?
Simply said: Because human life depends on biodiversity. Biodiversity maintains
ecosystems and ecosystems provide various services to maintain life on earth. Biodiversity is
essential for the functioning of healthy ecosystems and our well-being is directly linked to
ecosystem services, such as the provision of clean water, fresh air and food from the land.
There are also intrinsic values attributed to biodiversity from the perspective of many ethical,
religious, and cultural points of view. Ecosystems are of enormous value in and for themselves
regardless of their value to humankind.Healthy functioning ecosystems provide these vital
services to residents of the Triangle:
Provisioning services: products obtained from ecosystems, for example food, fresh water, fuel,
genetic resources;
Regulating services: benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes, for example
climate and disease regulation, water purification;
Cultural services: non-material benefits, for example spiritual and religious, aesthetic,
inspirational; and
Supporting services: services necessary for the production of all of the above, for example soil
formation, nutrient cycling.
These different services show how we rely on biodiversity in our daily lives, often without
realizing it. Due to complex interrelationships between biodiversity and ecosystems, changes in
biodiversity can influence many services of an ecosystem. Biological diversity can be difficult to
measure directly. As an alternative, the number of species whose survival is at risk provides an indicator
of changes in biological diversity, and therefore changes in ecosystem health.
Threats to biodiversity
The most important threats to biodiversity in the Triangle are natural ecosystem loss and
degradation, including pollution and habitat fragmentation, introduction of nonnative “exotic” or “alien”
species, and overexploitation of plant and animal species. These threats are often driven by human
influences such as clear-cutting, over-fishing, population expansion and new development.
Vegetative communities change naturally over time, but human influences have a dramatic
impact. Development patterns greatly affect habitat quantity and quality and, therefore, wildlife diversity
and populations. An obvious impact is the loss of habitat due to conversion of forests, wetlands and
agricultural lands to other uses. Infrastructure to service new developments — sewer and water, roads,
power lines, telecommunications towers/lines, etc.—can also cause serious wildlife impacts by the loss or
fragmentation of habitats, obstruction of migration routes and increased human activity which disrupts
normal wildlife behavior patterns. The transition area between developed landscapes and natural habitats
can be the source of negative effects that may limit biodiversity.
Corridors and fragmentation of habitat?
An edge effect usually occurs for some distance into a forest ecosystem that borders developed
landscapes. While many species depend on the open habitat found at the forest’s edge, newly created
forest openings may result in a loss of interior-habitat species that are not adapted to the edge. An
especially serious negative effect of deforestation may occur when "interior" bird species are increasingly
exposed to nest predators such as raccoons, jays, and crows.
Non-native invasive species including plant, animal, pathogen, and fungi compete with native
species in the Triangle’s ecosystems. Non-natives are characterized by fast growth rates and have no
natural predators to control their populations. As such, invasive species may out-compete native species
and disrupt natural ecosystems. There are 164 non-native invasive species in Wake County alone.
Global climatic warming caused by release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere may lead to
reductions in biodiversity. Native species with low genetic diversity and/or migratory ability; species and
species and ecosystems existing in areas fragmented by human development activities could suffer
pronounced negative effects of climatic warming.
Redo the absence of FIRE paragraph
An endemic species, or subspecies, is one that is found only in a particular region.
An endangered species or subspecies is one that is determined by federal and/or state law to be in
danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range (i.e., geographic distribution).
A threatened species or subspecies is one that is determined by federal and/or state law as likely
to become endangered in the foreseeable future.
Source: Photo by Jeff Pippen
A vine with a deadly twist
Japanese honeysuckle, like many invasive species, has few natural enemies which allows the plant to
flourish and out-compete native plants. The honeysuckle vine can kill young trees by twisting tightly
around stems and trunks, which cuts off the plant’s flow of water. Carolina Jessamine is a native
alternative to the invasive Japanese honeysuckle.
Number of invasive plants by county
Animal Diversity
Monitoring the total number of species in the Triangle is a way to keep track of biodiversity in the region.
As new species are listed by state or federal agencies as species of concern, endangered or threatened, or
in some cases, delisted, it is a way to monitor the stability of species over time.
How to measure it?
The NC GAP analysis tool can be used to calculate the total number of species by county over time. The
GAP analysis tool can also be used calculate the number of state listed species, federally listed species
and GAP species of concern. A decrease in animal diversity, or an increase in the number of listed species
can help focus conservation efforts on the species, or habitats most at risk.
Animal Diversity in the Triangle
Total #
State listed
listed species
GAP species
of concern
Triangle Average Animal Diversity
There are 122 bird species in the Triangle, 45 mammals and 59 reptile species documented in the
region. Animal diversity has important ecological and economic impacts. Bird watching is the fastest
growing outdoor activity in the country according to a survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wildlife intro text - Measuring Conservation Success