Projects, U.S. & Canada
NatureServe is carrying out numerous projects in the United States and Canada designed to increase our understanding of species and ecosystems and to apply this knowledge to important conservation issues. By working together with natural heritage programs, conservation data centers, and other partners, NatureServe can work at local, national, and international scales. NatureServe's projects and activities in North America focus on:
- Species Assessments | Ecosystem Assessments
- Documenting the condition and distribution of species and ecosystems, with an emphasis on those of greatest conservation concern. NatureServe assessed the condition of species at risk on DOD installations.
- Conservation Analyses
- Producing analyses that meet critical conservation needs, based upon the best available data.
- Biodiversity Information Management
- Creating information technology tools for recording, managing, and applying biodiversity information.
Conservation Status of Species
Determining the relative risk of extinction confronting different plant and animal species is essential for setting effective conservation priorities. NatureServe has developed a rigorous protocol for assessing species status based on about a dozen factors, including population number and size, trends, and threats. These assessments are relied upon by numerous organizations, including federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Canadian Wildlife Service, private conservation organizations, and industry groups, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Funding from these federal agencies and many other sources has helped NatureServe and its partners to assess the status of thousands of North American plants and animals and make that data available on the NatureServe Explorer website.
Assessing Threats from Invasive Species
Invasive species constitute the second-leading threat to imperiled native species. Mounting an effective response to this threat depends on focusing resources on those plants and animals that pose the greatest risk to natural ecosystems. With lead support from the Turner Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, NatureServe has collaborated with The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service to develop an Invasive Species Assessment Protocol. This detailed analytical method allows land managers to assess the comparative impact on biodiversity of specific non-native plants.
Predictive Range Mapping
New computer-assisted tools for predicting the distribution of species based on the characteristics of known localities could significantly improve our ability to map and protect rare and endangered species. With support from the Seaver Institute, NatureServe is working together with researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Michigan to explore which emerging approaches to predictive-range mapping will have the greatest applicability to NatureServe's conservation needs. Together with the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database, we offer training workshops on this subject, also known as "Element Distribution Modeling".
Ecological Integrity Assessments
NatureServe is working with the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies that are developing a National Wetlands Mitigation Plan, in order to provide them with effective biological and functional indicators that will help establish performance standards for wetland mitigation. This report outlines our approach to establishing performance standards for wetlands mitigation using an improved version of our methodology for conducting ecological integrity assessments. Read more.
U.S. National Vegetation Classification
Conservationists and land managers seeking to take a more wholistic approach to ecosystem management benefit from a consistent way to characterize the landscape. NatureServe has developed a U.S. National Vegetation Classification that presents a standard and hierarchical approach to identify and describe vegetation types. This classification system is the result of a decade of work that began under the auspices of The Nature Conservancy. The classification currently includes more than 4,500 vegetation types, and has been adopted by the Federal Geographic Data Committee for use by all U.S. federal agencies. NatureServe and its partners assess the conservation status of these ecological communities to help inform conservation priorities, and the classification forms the basis for numerous ecosystem mapping efforts. (For a full description, see our publication Seeing the Forest and the Trees).
Canadian National Vegetation Classification
Building on the successful vegetation classification work in the United States, NatureServe Canada is working on the development of a Canadian National Vegetation Classification. With funding from the Richard Ivey Foundation, this effort is focusing initially on describing forest and woodland types. This work is being carried out in partnership with the Canadian Forest Service, provincial governments, and the Parks Canada Agency. Development of a Canadian National Vegetation Classification will not only assist Canadian land mangers and conservationists, but also allow improved conservation planning across the international border.
U.S. National Parks Vegetation Mapping
NatureServe is a primary partner in the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service effort to classify, describe, and map vegetation communities in more than 250 national park units across the United States. This project makes use of the National Vegetation Classification (see above) as the basis for its maps. To date, work is either complete or ongoing at some 45 national parks, including Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountains, and Mount Rushmore. For a complete look at the status of work at each park, see http://biology.usgs.gov/npsveg.
Ecological Systems Classification
Building on our experience at developing consistent and scalable ecological classifications, NatureServe has developed a new approach for identifying mid-scale ecological units useful for conservation planning. These "ecological systems" are landscape units encompassing complexes of biological communities that occur in similar physical environments and that are influenced by similar dynamic ecological processes, such as fire or flooding. Working classifications of the ecological systems of the United States and Latin America are available.
Canadian Species Report
NatureServe and NatureServe Canada are preparing a first-ever analysis of the global conservation status of Canadian plants and animals based on information developed in collaboration with provincial conservation data centres. The report will survey Canada's rich biological heritage and analyze how its plant and animal species are faring. To be published in September 2005, the report will include an assessment of the extinction risk to nearly 6,000 species.
Sustainable Forestry Certification
NatureServe and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), a sustainable forestry certification standard, are working together to protect imperiled species and forests of exceptional conservation value on timber industry lands. The SFI now requires its members to use NatureServe's conservation status assessments to identify the most imperiled species and ecosystems found on their lands and to develop plans for protecting them. The species and communities to be protected are those ranked by NatureServe as critically imperiled or imperiled. These new standards, adopted as of July 2002, affect the management of more than 60 million acres of forestlands in the United States and Canada. See press release.
At-Risk Species as Environmental Indicators
A national report issued by the Heinz Center in September 2002 (The State of the Nation's Ecosystems: Measuring the Lands, Waters, and Living Resources of the United States) relies on NatureServe conservation status data as the basis for several environmental indicators. These include a core national-level species-at-risk indicator, as well as ecosystem-specific indicators for forests, grasslands and shrublands, and freshwater. Previously, as part of the EPA Office of Water's efforts to assess the condition of the nation's waterways, NatureServe worked with EPA to develop an aquatic/wetlands species-at-risk indicator for the Index of Watershed Integrity project. EPA's Draft Report on the Environment 2003, a national environmental indicators report, also makes use of NatureServe data on at-risk species.
Risks to Imperiled Species Along Pipeline Routes
For the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety, NatureServe analyzed the risk to sensitive habitats nationwide from potential spills or leaks from oil and liquid gas pipelines. NatureServe identified and mapped those places along pipeline routes that are near to sensitive habitats. Based on these "Unusually Sensitive Area" designations, pipeline operators are required to carry out assessments of the risk to ecological resources and to implement measures designed to minimize such risks.
Biodiversity Information Management
Online Access to Biodiversity Data via Web Services
NatureServe, with financial support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Biological Databases and Informatics program (award #0345400) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Information Exchange Network Grant program, is developing a new system for delivering biodiversity data over the Internet. By improving online access to detailed spatial data on species populations and ecological communities, the project will create new opportunities for data exploration, analysis, and synthesis and help advance scientific understanding of the nation's biodiversity. The vision for this project is to employ a Web Services framework for providing distributed access to data from all NatureServe member natural heritage programs. This architecture would allow a user (or third party application) to query a central gateway site, with each data provider responding directly to relevant data requests. Learn more.
NatureServe Vista: Decision-Support Systems for Land Use Planning
Integrating biodiversity information into the local land use planning process is the goal of a new software product developed by NatureServe and a group of partners. With major support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, NatureServe has developed NatureServe Vista, decision-support system software designed to help planners understand the biological resources found within their area, identify those lands and waters of high biological value, and evaluate alternative scenarios for use of those lands. The software represents an effort to more effectively incorporate biodiversity considerations into the "smart growth" framework that is being embraced by many communities as a way of maintaining their quality of life. Learn more.
As a collaborator in GeoConnections, a national partnership to deliver geospatial information from many sources over the Internet, NatureServe Canada is working to improve the accessibility of biodiversity data held by Canadian conservation data centres (CDCs). The first phase of NatureServe's work involves developing the relevant metadata to connect CDCs and their data holdings to GeoConnections. Additional phases of the project will focus on developing national views of wild species distributions through the use of integrated information and data access tools.