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Biodiversity Inventory of Natural Lands: A How-To Manual for Foresters and Biologists
With literally thousands of rare plants, animals and ecological community types to consider, the task of designing an effective biodiversity survey can be daunting. The NatureServe network maintains information on nearly 65,000 species and 6,000 ecological community types, and this information stockpile is continually expanding. However, to date there has been little consistent or uniform guidance regarding the specific tools and techniques for conducting biodiversity inventories. Fortunately, recent developments in remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) have greatly enhanced methods to screen and inventory large landscapes for biodiversity features.
This manual is intended as a practical, hands-on guide to biodiversity inventory. It provides an overview of the data sources, analytical tools and methods, and field techniques involved in surveying lands for rare species and ecological communities of concern.
Office Depot, the principal funder of this publication, is dedicated to conserving forest
biodiversity and supporting sustainable forestry efforts. To achieve this aim, Office
Depot relies on sustainable forest certification standards, such as the Sustainable Forestry
Initiative and the Forest Stewardship Council. These standards require consideration of biodiversity features such as rare species and ecological communities. As a result, this manual was inspired by an interest in forested habitats and their conservation. Nonetheless, many of the methods and information sources described here are relevant for other landscape types as well.
Many data sources used to guide biodiversity inventory are now publicly available. These include GIS data on both biotic and abiotic landscape features (e.g., digital elevation models, soils, hydrology, wetlands), land use/land cover (e.g., regional GAP coverages), and remote imagery (aerial photos and satellite imagery at a variety of scales). In addition, many private companies and land management agencies have their own finerscaled natural resource data, such as forest stand and harvest maps, that significantly bolster the ability to screen areas for biodiversity inventory.
Tools for site screening range from conventional methods such as analysis of aerial photos and consulting expert opinion to innovative and evolving GIS-based techniques such as predictive distribution modeling. Although the latter techniques increasingly rely on computer algorithms to predict the locations of rare features, it is critical that they are implemented by personnel knowledgeable about the plants, animals, ecological communities and landscapes of interest. The NatureServe network has developed a variety of field sampling techniques, plot designs, data recording protocols, and field forms that have proven successful for biodiversity inventories. Many of these protocols are introduced here, but readers are encouraged to consult with NatureServe member programs (i.e., U.S. natural heritage programs and Canadian conservation data centres) regarding details on techniques for specific taxa or landscape types.
Because of their local expertise, personnel of NatureServe member programs are ideally suited to conduct or provide guidance on biodiversity inventories at the local level. Similarly, as recipients and managers of biodiversity data, member programs are well positioned to provide the proper conservation context to the data, such as information on rarity, conservation, and management of rare species and ecological communities.
Advances in GIS capabilities, coupled with increasing availability of digital data, are rapidly improving and changing the way biodiversity inventories are conducted. Consequently, this manual should be considered a living document; NatureServe will update relevant inventory methods and associated links as they become available.
Office Depot provided funding for this report as part of its five-year, $2.2 million sponsorship of the Forest & Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, a collaboration among NatureServe, Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy that aims to develop the information, standards, and tools needed to advance forest and biodiversity conservation policies within the paper products supply chain. For more information, please visit www.officedepot.com/environment.