People seeking to understand and conserve ecosystems benefit from consistent ways to characterize the landscape. NatureServe supports this approach by developing several inter-related classifications of ecosystem and community types. These consistent and flexible classifications, including the International Terrestrial Ecological Systems Classification and the International Vegetation Classification (IVC), can be applied to terrestrial regions throughout the world and to coastal and marine systems of North America. Six datasets are available here for download.
Since the late 1990s, NatureServe scientists have led efforts to develop internationally standardized classifications for terrestrial ecosystems — mid-scale ecological units useful for standardized mapping and conservation assessments of habitat diversity and landscape conditions. Each system encompasses complexes of plant communities influenced by similar physical environments and dynamic ecological processes (like fire or flooding). These commonly provide the focus for ecological assessment, planning, and monitoring. The classification’s more than 800 ecosystem units defined for the United States and adjacent Canada provide an effective means of mapping ecological concepts nationwide in greater detail than previously thought. NatureServe ecological system units have provided the basis for map legends for several national efforts like the USGS Gap Analysis Program and LANDFIRE.
NatureServe also developed a comprehensive classification of the terrestrial ecological systems of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). This work has the effect of establishing a standard classification of ecological systems from Alaska to Patagonia. The LAC classification &mdash available in Spanish on InfoNatura &mdash includes nearly 800 ecological systems in the region.
Dichotomous keys are devices that help users distinguish among ecological classification units by choosing between “couplets” that represent two options. Developed for the multi-agency LANDFIRE project, these keys include ecological systems represent the legend LANDFIRE used to map existing vegetation as well as types that characteristically occur at smaller spatial scales not included in the LANDFIRE legend.
These keys, organized by Ecological Divisions, filter ecological systems using characteristics one would observe in the field among wetland occurrences commonly referenced as “geographically isolated.”
The Coastal/Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS) is a classification of the habitats of the estuaries, coasts and oceans of North America. This classification framework extends from the head-of-tides in the coastal zone to the deep ocean, encompassing estuaries, wetlands, rivers, shorelines, islands, the intertidal zone, the entire benthic zone, and the entire water column from the shore to the deep ocean. CMECS allows effective identification, monitoring, protection, and restoration of unique biotic assemblages, protected species, critical habitat, and important ecosystem components.
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.