Core Methodology Training

This year we held the 119th session of Core Methodology Training. The training was held in conjunction with the 2014 Biodiversity without Boundaries conference. Core Methodology Training is a new, field-based version of what used to be called Natural Heritage Methodology Training which has been happening since 1974! At least 1,640 members of the NatureServe network have attended some version of this training over the last 40 years.

Core Methodology Training in the field - looking at a gopher tortoise burrow. Photo by Shara Howie | NatureServeThe training introduces staff, new to the NatureServe network, to the core methods, tools and practices that are utilized by our member program network. An essential component of the training is to make it clear how these methods contribute to data that are standardized, high quality and comparable across multiple jurisdictions. These collaboratively developed methods and practices, the scope, depth and quality of our data, and our in-depth expertise are a hallmark of the NatureServe network. By the end of this training, the participants have a solid understanding of these unique methods and practices, gain a sense of camaraderie with the rest of the network, and develop an understanding of the importance of our work.

Since it is well known that passive learning is not as effective as engaged learning techniques, this year’s training was a field-based, exercise oriented approach to the training. The feedback we received has been extremely positive so far. Our training approach used a combination of webinars, field exercises and interactive indoor sessions.  


The four webinars introduced participants to the background and history of NatureServe, the NatureServe Science program, and the methodology of spatially mapping species locations (Element Occurrences or EOs). The in-person training was three days.

Field Training

Keri Landry of the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program uses a burrow camera to spy on a baby gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). Photo by Margaret Ormes | NatureServeThe field training was conducted on the first day at Sandy Hollow Wildlife Management Area about an hour northwest of Covington, Louisiana where the training was held. Participants were able to experience how the spatial mapping concepts they learned during the webinar were connected to field data collection.

As an aside, the day before the training started, while setting up the field exercise (in a lightning storm), the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program botanist, Chris Reid, and the Florida Natural Areas Inventory botanist, Amy Jenkins, discovered One-flowered Broomrape (Orobanche uniflora). It is a parasitic plant that is currently ranked by NatureServe as common throughout its range (G5), but rare in the southeast and ranked by the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program as critically imperiled (S1) in Louisiana. For the actual training exercise, the trainees were thrilled to work with NatureServe’s Biotics Support Manager, Whitney Weber and Amy Jenkins to map this species rarely seen in Louisiana on the first day of our training. In addition, the trainees mapped gopher tortoise burrows, and Keri Landry the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program zoologist, had a burrow camera so that we could see a video image of the gopher tortoises (and a lone frog) hanging out in their burrows. 

Field training for the ecologists was conducted in a high-quality longleaf pine woodland, well maintained by fire and with a diverse ground layer.  Trainees used aerial photo imagery to assess how the element occurrence was delimited for the site, and assessed the EORANK of the stand using a set of standard ecological integrity metrics.

Although the field day was threatened by rain, we completed our work unscathed and then all enjoyed a wonderful Cajun dinner with NatureServe president, Mary Klein.

Interactive Indoor Training

On the second day of training, we were able to take the data collected on Day 1, and use the mapping concepts we had learned in the webinar, to map and rank EOs. On Day 2, we conducted some element conservation ranking exercises too, including an exercise led by Don Faber-Langendoen involving the trainees “foraging” for candy to illustrate the effect of population size and threats on the process of assigning NatureServe element conservation ranks. Day 2 ended with a very inspiring and passionate closing presentation by NatureServe’s new Chief Scientist, Dr. Healy Hamilton (who also attended the training). She discussed the potential power our data could have in climate change analyses and other analyses using data visualization technologies. The third and final day of Core Methodology Training was an opportunity to attend the first day of the Biodiversity without Boundaries conference that included key sessions to help orient the trainees to the network, the NatureServe science program, and ideas about local fundraising. 

A huge thanks to everyone who made this training possible, including NatureServe’s President and executive team (Mary Klein, Leslie Honey, Ravi Shankar, Healy Hamilton), Nicole Iturralde for invaluable help with the logistics, and of course to our amazing instructors who went above and beyond the call of duty to make the training a success – Don Faber-Langendoen, Whitney Weber, Amy Knight, Keri Landry, Margaret Ormes and Nicole Lorenz.  It was truly a team effort!

If you are interested in attending our next Core Methodology Training or finding out about other training opportunities please visit our NatureServe Training (or Learning Tracks) page or contact NatureServe’s Training Coordinator, Shara Howie, at 703-797-4811 or