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The Natural History and Vegetation of Tennessee Project


There is currently no photographic and descriptive guide to the landscapes and natural communities of Tennessee that is available to scientists, land managers, conservationists, and students of ecology and related fields. The need to have such a reference guide is great since most ecologists and conservationists agree that the focus for conservation should be on preserving natural communities rather than focusing solely on species.The goal of this project is to prepare the first comprehensive classification of Tennessee's natural landscape and communities. This will include the development of this website that will compliment a reference book, Natural History and Vegetation of Tennessee, currently being written by Dr. Dwayne Estes. This state-level classification is intended to compliment and enhance, not compete with, the existing NatureServe Ecological Systems Classification ( and the National Vegetation Classification ( 

  • Suggested CitationEstes, D. 2015. Natural History and Vegetation of Tennessee. Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, Tennessee, and the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT), Fort Worth, Texas. Available (Accessed: September 25, 2015 ).


The vegetation of Tennessee is classified into five major systems: lacustrine, riverine, palustrine, upland, and anthropogenic. Lacustrine systems, represented by natural lakes, are recognized following the definition of Cowardin et al. (1979). Note that man-made lakes are classified in the Anthropogenic System. Riverine systems includes rivers, streams, and springs and the limits of the riverine system follows the definition of Cowardin et al. (1979). Palustrine systems represent the many types of herbaceous and forested wetlands, and it also includes riparian communities. The limits of the palustrine system follows the Cowardin et al. (1979) classification. Upland systems represent the remaning "natural" communities that range from mesic to xeric in moisture and includes most types of forests, woodlands, grasslands, glades, and cliff communities. Lastly, the anthropogenic system attempt to classify the myriad human-altered or man-made communities. Examples include man-made reservoirs, pine plantations, agricultural fields, pastures, and the various communities that are the result of 300 years of  impacts to the Tennessee landscape since colonization by Europeans.