Natural Community Systems -- Photo Guide

Natural Community Systems of New Hampshire

Particular associations of natural communities repeatedly co-occur in the landscape and are linked by a common set of driving forces, such as landforms, flooding, soils, and nutrient regime. These are referred to as natural community systems. Systems are at an appropriate scale for many conservation applications, including mapping and predictive modeling, correspondence to wildlife and wildlife habitats, and as direct conservation targets in conservation planning. They can be used as a tool to track locations and compare entire sites without having to refer to all communities at a site, particularly when these communities may intergrade and be difficult to map. They allow general classification of a system when detailed information is not available or detailed surveys are not feasible. Systems can provide a more practical scale for conservation planning and site comparisons. Finally, systems can sometimes make more suitable mapping units than communities for integrating wildlife occurrence data and habitat needs with plant information, for example in the case of a kettle hole bog system that contains multiple peatland communities. The classification and mapping of exemplary natural community systems can therefore be effective at identifying high priority conservation targets.

The following is a complete list of the natural community systems of New Hampshire, divided into uplands and wetlands, as organized in Natural Community Systems of New Hampshire (Second Edition). Each system name links to a photo and complete description. 

This index complements our comprehensive Photo Guide to the Natural Communities of New Hampshire.


Open to Woodland Systems on Bedrock- or Sand-Controlled Landscapes

Alpine and subalpine systems

Alpine tundra system

Alpine ravine/snowbank system

Subalpine heath - krummholz/rocky bald system

Montane ridges, cliffs, and talus

Montane rocky ridge system 

Montane cliff system

Montane acidic talus system

Temperate ridges, cliffs, and talus

Temperate ridge - cliff - talus system

Sand plains with a history of frequent fire

Pitch pine sand plain system

Coastal sand dunes and rocky shores

Coastal sand dune system

Maritime rocky shore system

Primarily Forest and Woodland Systems on Till, Fluvial, Talus, or Rocky Substrates 

   Rich hardwood forests on till, rocky, or terrace substrates

Rich mesic forest system

Rich north-temperate talus/rocky woods system

Rich Appalachian oak rocky woods system

   Forests on till, sand plain, and other fluvial materials with an infrequent fire history

Lowland spruce - fir forest/swamp system

High-elevation spruce - fir forest system

Northern hardwood - conifer forest system

Hemlock - hardwood - pine forest system

Appalachian oak - pine forest system


Palustrine (Non-Tidal, Non-Riparian)


Open oligotrophic peatlands

Alpine/subalpine bog system

Kettle hole bog system

Poor level fen/bog system

Open weakly to strongly minerotrophic peatlands

Medium level fen system

Montane sloping fen system

Patterned fen system

Rich sloping fen system (previously calcareous sloping fen system)

Oligotrophic swamp peatlands (forests and woodlands)

Black spruce peat swamp system

Coastal conifer peat swamp system

Temperate peat swamp system

Minerotrophic swamp peatlands

Near-boreal minerotrophic swamp system

Primarily mineral soil wetlands

Wooded swamps (weakly to strongly minerotrophic)

Temperate minerotrophic swamp system

Forest seep/seepage forest system

      Open-basin and streamside wetlands

Emergent marsh - shrub swamp system

            Sand plain pond shore and basin marshes

Sandy pond shore system

Sand plain basin marsh system

Riparian (Non-Tidal)

   River channels and riverbanks

Low-gradient silty-sandy riverbank system

Moderate-gradient sandy-cobbly riverbank system

High-gradient rocky riverbank system


Montane/near-boreal floodplain system

Major river silver maple floodplain system

Temperate minor river floodplain system

Tidal (Estuarine)


Salt marsh system

Brackish tidal riverbank marsh system

Sparsely vegetated intertidal system


Subtidal system

Photo Guide to
Natural Communities
of New Hampshire