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. NatureServes projects and activities in North America focus on:
- Species and Ecosystem Assessments: Documenting the condition and distribution of species and ecosystems, with an emphasis on those of greatest conservation concern.
- 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.
Current Projects in the U.S.
- Mobile Observations System
- 2009 IUCN Red List Highlights Continued Extinction Threat
- NPS National Capital Region Web Guide to Natural Communities
- National Conservation Easement Database
- LandScope America
- Ecosystem-Based Management Tools Network
- Online Access to Biodiversity Data via Web Services
- Coastal/Marine Ecological Classification Standard
- Conservation Status of Species
- Conserving Biodiversity on Military Lands
- Assessing Threats from Invasive Species
- Predictive Range Mapping
- U.S. National Vegetation Classification
- U.S. National Parks Vegetation Mapping
- Ecological Systems Classification
- Sustainable Forestry Certification
- At-Risk Species as Environmental Indicators
- Risks to Imperiled Species Along Pipeline Routes
- NatureServe Vista: Decision-Support Systems for Land Use Planning
Conceived with generous support from the West Hill Foundation for Nature, Americas Encyclopedia of Natural Ecosystems and Open Space will be a sophisticated, interactive website that serves as the definitive online guide to understanding and protecting America's natural lands. The Encyclopedia will inform state and county governments, land trusts, and landowners to better understand the distribution, condition, and significance of the nations lands and open spaces. Learn more...
Ecosystem-Based Management Tools Network
NatureServe is part of a network of conservation groups, foundations, scientists, and universities that has launched a new website to provide comprehensive information about tools for ecosystem-based management (EBM) of coastal and marine environments. The EBM Tools Network website is an online portal that serves the information needs of scientists, planners, and coastal land managers throughout North America. Learn more...
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 nations 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...
Coastal/Marine Ecological Classification Standard
The Coastal/Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS) is a classification of the habitats of the estuaries, coasts and oceans of North America. Developed through a collaboration between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NatureServe, the CMECS framework extends from the head-of-tides in the coastal zone to the deep ocean. This encompasses estuaries, wetlands, rivers, shorelines, islands, the intertidal zone, the entire benthic zone, and the entire water column from the shore to the deep ocean. Learn more...
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.
Conserving Biodiversity on Military Lands
Long experience by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) with the management of the natural resources on its nearly 30 million acres of land has shown that the environmental health of these lands is absolutely essential for realistic and sustainable military testing and training. NatureServe is aiding DoD's efforts to equip its natural resources managers and military operators who use the land for testing and training with the information and knowledge they need to responsibly maintain the long-term sustainability of the many complex ecosystems on which they operate and on which the military and the nation rely. The project produced a comprehensive handbook, Conserving Biodiversity on Military Lands: A Guide for Natural Resources Managers, a summary brochure, The Commander's Guide, targeted at installation leadership, and a website, www.dodbiodiversity.org, that provides an online version of the guide and other resources for the military's natural resources managers.
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.
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, in collaboration with partners including The Nature Conservancy, Ecological Society of America, and others from the academic, conservation, and government sectors, has developed the U.S. National Vegetation Classification (USNVC). The USNVC 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.
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.
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 NatureServes 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 100 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 Transportations 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.
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...