Monday, April 27, 2009

Appalachian Mountains Ecosystem

The ecosystem of the Appalachian Mountains in North America is second only to the tropical rain forests in its biodiversity, with the Appalachians containing more variety of trees than all of Europe combined. This is because during the time that the continents were combined into one giant continent called Pangea, the Appalachian region was located on the ecuador. It was only as a result of plate tectonics that Applachian is now located in the Northern Hemisphere. Evidence of its tropical past, however, can be discovered in the numerous ferns that exist in Appalachia and in the large coal deposits that were formed by the geological compression of its once tropical vegetation. In the coal deposits, one can see fossils of the tropical vegetation and fish that once existed in Appalachia when it was a tropical rain forest. When one thinks of Appalachian, one tends to think of endless forests - but this once was not true. At the end of the 1800's and early 1900's, over 95 percent of the forests of Appalachia were clear cut in one of the large examples of the human transformation of the natural environment. It was only the creation of state and national parks and forests that have allowed the forests in those areas to grow back. But sustained forest management is still an issue throughout Appalachia. Meanwhile, the exploitation of another natural resource continues to have a more permanent negative impact on Appalachia. This is coal mining. Underground coal mines continue to pollute streams and rivers as leachate leaks out of abandoned mines. An even greater problem is strip mining of coal. This involves literally cutting off the top of the mountains to get to the coal, leaving the strip-mined land without topsoil and vegetation. New regulations reguire the re-planting of strip mined areas, but it is difficult to grow anything on the cut-off mountain tops without top soil.