Standardized ecological classification units form the foundation for effective data collection, assessment, and reporting on ecosystems. Attempts at regional land cover mapping often falter on this point or struggle along inefficiently. Over the past decade, NatureServe has worked with the Gap Analysis Program and others to map existing vegetation using the US National Vegetation Classification (US-NVC). Experience has demonstrated the need to develop map units at conceptual scales
intermediate between the narrowly specific alliance (floristic) and the broadly generalized formation (physiognomic) levels of the US-NVC. NatureServe defined over 630 ‘‘mesoscale’’ vegetation-based units that are described across the lower 48 United States. These units apply well to land cover mapping and may be augmented with modifiers for specific variants in composition and structure resulting in robust, standardized maps. Terrestrial ecological system units provide a direct, systematic link to the US National Vegetation Classification and may also provide a useful framework for integration with ecological site concepts and descriptions.