• Atlantic Ocean beach at Cape Cod National Seashore

    Cape Cod

    National Seashore Massachusetts

Heathlands and Grasslands

Wellfleet - heathland

Heathland landscape in Wellfleet

NPS Photo

Sandplain is a term used to describe an area of glacial outwash. The transportation and deposition of sandy sediments by retreating glaciers are what formed the sandplains found in New England. The grassland and heathland plant community types associated with New England sandplains owe much of their prevalence to historical disturbance. Past natural events (like fire) and human activities (like agriculture) are responsible for the formation of these community types throughout much of their present day range. The suppression and disruption of historical disturbance has resulted in conversion of these early-successional community types to other later-successional community types like shrubland and forest. The long term status of the existing grasslands and heathlands is uncertain. In addition to being themselves rare, these communities serve as important habitat for a host of vulnerable wildlife, notably open land birds including the vesper sparrow and grasshopper sparrow. Prescribed fire is used to maintain heathland and other open, early successional stage plant communities that harken to the Cape Cod landscape of the past and helps maintain native wildlife diversity. For more information on how prescribed fire is used at CCNS follow this link to an article on the Young Forest Project website.

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