Ecologists from across the NatureServe network are testing and refining a sleeker, more efficient methodology for assessing the ecological integrity of wetland ecosystems, revisions that were set in motion after a May 2014 collaboration between NatureServe staff and scientists from four of our member programs.
In 2012, NatureServe issued a standard protocol for assessing the ecological integrity of wetlands based on testing in Indiana, Michigan, and New Jersey. In May 2014, network member programs from Colorado, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Washington met in Colorado with NatureServe staff to review the protocol based on their own testing over the previous two years. After two days of intensive meetings, which included a field trip to a nearby wetland, the team agreed on a revised version of the 15 metrics. The result is a more consistent and efficient set of metrics that can be gathered at a site within two to four hours.
These field evaluations are one of three components of NatureServe's approach to conducting Ecological Integrity Assessments. They are designed for rapid assessment, and yield models that give land managers, conservationists, and agencies critical information about factors that may be degrading, maintaining or helping to restore that ecosystem.
The Colorado, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Washington heritage programs have been testing the new wetland assessment methods in the field this summer. Six other states will review their findings later this fall, and the methodology should be ready to roll out to the network next year.
This new methodology will position members of the NatureServe network to more consistently identify the best remaining wetlands in their state, as well as the full range of wetland conditions found across the state and in watersheds. As programs compile these data in their state databases, they will be able to use the newly enhanced Biotics 5 database and other partner databases to share this data throughout their region and across the country.
This effort is part of a larger project supported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The project's overall goal is to establish a nationwide methodology for identifying and sampling wetland sites that could be a suitable candidate for being declared an archetype of that variety of wetland.