Cape Cod is home to many specialized habitats and natural communities. Coastal dunes, maritime forests, Atlantic White cedar swamps, coastal plain ponds, sandplain grasslands, estuarine intertidal marshes, coastal salt ponds, maritime oak/holly woodlands, and pitch pine/scrub oak woodlands are some of the specialized habitats that are found here. Many of these resources are threatened by development pressure, and many are not recognized as significant. Vernal pools, while not unique to Cape Cod, are often overlooked for the ecological role they play in our environment. Because many of these natural communities support unusual assemblages of soils, hydrology, and plants, many support rare or threatened species not found elsewhere in the Commonwealth. Below is a summary of some of these specialized habitats and their defining characteristics.
For complete natural community descriptions, please see the state's Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) site.
Check back here in the near future for descriptions and photographs of some of the more unusual natural communities found on Cape Cod.
As noted above, and discussed in the links to the natural communities' descriptions, Cape Cod supports many state listed rare or endangered species. While some species may appear ubiquitous on the Cape (Eastern box turtle, for example), the special characteristics of the Cape environment provide the specialized habitats that allow many state-listed species to thrive here.
The Cape Cod Commission's regulations ensure that rare species and their habitat are considered and impacts are avoided during the Development of Regional Impact (DRI) review process. In addition, regardless of project size, developments located within rare species habitat as mapped by the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (with some exemptions), are required to file with the NHESP for a determination as to whether their project will impact rare species.
For more information about whether a project is located in mapped rare species habitat, download the NHESP map viewer or contact Heather McElroy, or NHESP directly by phone at (508) 792-7270 ext. 200.
Additional information about specific state-listed species' characteristics and habitat requirements can also be found at the NHESP web site.
The restoration of degraded habitats, particularly where invasive species have become a problem, is encouraged. Various resources are available for planning such projects.
The Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions works with town boards all over the state. Their web site provides many resources about biodiversity and invasive species.
The web site of the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension offers information about appropriate plants for revegetation with native species or in sensitive resource areas. (See links below.)
The Cape Cod Commission's technical bulletin on invasive species also offers specific invasive species management information.
Grant money may be available for private landowners planning large-scale habitat improvements. See the MassWildlife Landowner Incentive Program under the Grant Resources section of this web site.
The following plant lists and planting guidelines, prepared by Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, are available for revegetation or landscaping with native species. These species have been selected for their suitability in Cape Cod's soils and horticultural zone, and/or based on the habitat value they may provide for native wildlife.