See Visit Local Programs for web links to natural heritage programs and conservation data centers.
NatureServe represents a network of independent centers that collect and analyze data about the plants, animals, and ecological communities of the Western Hemisphere. Known as natural heritage programs or conservation data centers, these programs operate throughout all of the United States and Canada, and in many countries and territories of Latin America.
The role of these programs is to collect, analyze, and distribute detailed scientific information about the biological diversity found within their jurisdictions. These programs are the leading source of information on the precise locations and conditions of rare and threatened species and ecological communities. Consistent standards for collecting and managing data allow information from different programs to be shared and combined regionally, nationally, and internationally. The nearly 800 staff across the network are experts in their fields and include some of the most knowledgeable field biologists, data managers, and conservation planners in their regions.
Biodiversity Information Databases
Information on species and ecological communities is first compiled from existing sources, such as scientific literature, field guides, and museum collections. Natural heritage biologists conduct extensive field inventories to locate and verify species populations and to assess their current conservation condition. Each program maintains and continuously updates a sophisticated computer database that tracks the relative rarity of each species or community and the precise location and status of each known population. Representing almost four decades of continuous ecological inventory and database development, these are the most complete and up-to-date conservation databases available.
How the Information Is Used
The information compiled by network member programs is a powerful conservation tool for planners, landowners, natural area managers, and others. Conservation groups use natural heritage data to identify the most important natural areas and to set conservation priorities. Local governments use the information to aid in land-use planning. Developers and businesses rely on natural heritage data to comply with environmental laws and to improve the environmental sensitivity of development projects. Public agencies use it to manage public lands better and help guide natural resource decisions.
NatureServe’s member programs are organized in three regional sections, through which the programs work together to share common experiences and expertise. For a complete list of these programs and links to their websites, see Visit Local Programs.
- NatureServe has nine member programs in Canada, operating in all ten provinces, Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territories. Known as conservation data centres, most are part of provincial wildlife agencies, while one (Atlantic Canada) is a non-governmental organization. NatureServe Canada facilitates the Canadian network and coordinates the development of national-scale projects.
- United States
- NatureServe has member programs operating in all 50 states as well as through regional entities such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Navajo Nation. Most U.S. programs are operated as agencies of state government, while some reside within universities or non-profit organizations.
- Latin America
- NatureServe’s member programs in Latin America are operated by a diverse set of institutions, including government agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations. These conservation data centers operate at national levels (e.g., Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala), state levels (e.g., Sonora, Mexico), and regional levels (e.g., Cauca Valley, Colombia; Northeastern Mexico).