Habitats - General Information

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The origin of the term “pocosin” in the name of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is an American Indian word for ‘swamp of a hill’. Although the land on the refuge is only a few feet above sea level, it is elevated relative to the surrounding marshes on the shorelines of the sounds. Pocosin habitat includes several distinct plant communities whose distribution and structure are determined by fire frequency and depth of peat. Much of the land within Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is not forest, but yet forests grew there in the past. Swamp forests are dynamic, not static. Through the millennia, peat has accumulated as plants died. Offsetting the process of accumulation was subsidence that has occurred in response to drainage.
On the deepest peat soil greater than 4 feet deep, the habitat is low pocosin on which only shrubs can live. High pocosins occupy peat soils between 1 ½ feet and 4 feet deep and are characterized by pond pine trees with a thick understory of shrubs. Atlantic white cedar forests and bay forests also occupy soils that have a peat depth of less than 4 feet if the fire frequency is not too frequent. Atlantic white cedar forests are early successional forests; bay forests succeed the Atlantic white cedar if a fire does not maintain the cedar stand. On soils with peat depths of less than 1 ½ feet, forests with oak trees can survive because they can root deep enough to support their canopies.
The staff manages some areas as managed wetlands as optimum habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds. There is also freshwater marsh along the Alligator River and the Intracoastal Waterway.