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Precious HeritageThe Status of Biodiversity in the United States$
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Bruce Stein, Lynn S. Kutner, and Jonathan S. Adams

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780195125191

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195125191.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 26 November 2021

A Remarkable Array: Species Diversity in the United States

A Remarkable Array: Species Diversity in the United States

(p.55) 3 A Remarkable Array: Species Diversity in the United States
Precious Heritage

Bruce A. Stein

Jonathan S. Adams

Lawrence L. Master

Larry E. Morse

Geoffrey Hammerson

Oxford University Press

The Carolina hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana) survives in just a few rocky streambeds along the lower slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Other species of hemlock abound across the United States, but none bear a close resemblance to this particular tree. The closest relatives of the Carolina hemlock, in fact, survive in only one other forest on Earth, some 7,000 miles away in Hubei province of eastern China. The forests of eastern Asia and eastern North America are so similar that if you were suddenly transported from one to the other, you would be hard-pressed to tell them apart. In the swift mountain streams rushing past these seemingly displaced hemlocks live a number of small, colorful fish known as darters. Darters are found only in North America and have evolved into a prolific variety of fishes. Up to 175 species inhabit U.S. waters, including the famous snail darter (Percina tanasi), which brought endangered species issues to the fore when it held up construction of the Tellico Dam on the Little Tennessee River. How is it that these two organisms, hemlock and darter, one with its closest relatives on the other side of the globe and the other found nowhere else in the world, came to be living side by side? Just how many plants and animals share the piece of Earth that we know as the United States of America? Why these and not others? These are central questions for understanding the diversity of the nation’s living resources. The United States encompasses an enormous piece of geography. With more than 3.5 million square miles of land and 12,000 miles of coastline, it is the fourth largest country on Earth, surpassed only by Russia, Canada, and China. The nation spans nearly a third of the globe, extending more than 120 degrees of longitude from eastern Maine to the tip of the Aleutian chain, and 50 degrees in latitude from Point Barrow above the Arctic Circle to the southern tip of Hawaii below the tropic of Cancer. This expanse of terrain includes an exceptional variety of topographic features, from Death Valley at 282 feet below sea level to Mt. McKinley at 20,320 feet above sea level.

Keywords:   Achatinella, Bos bison, Carex lutea, Danaus plexippus, Eocene Epoch, Gondwanaland, Heloderma horridum, Illicium, Jurassic Period, Kauai, Lama guanicoe

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