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Seeing the Forest and the Trees > Executive Summary
What types of natural vegetation exist across the landscape?
Which types are intrinsically rare or have been severely degraded by human activities?
How do we identify the best remaining occurrences of natural communities across
their geographic ranges? To direct our limited conservation resources to the
specific places where they will have the greatest impact, we must have clear
answers to questions such as theseanswers that ultimately hinge on how
we define and categorize the rich ecological diversity that is one of our nation's
To answer these questions, NatureServe and The Nature Conservancy
have developed a consistent and flexible classification system that can be applied
to terrestrial ecological communities throughout the world. The system can be
used to classify all types of communities, from verdant wetlands to arid deserts
nearly lacking in plant life, and from pristine old-growth forests to cultivated
annual crop fields.
Using this system, a team of NatureServe and Nature Conservancy
ecologists has now completed a first iteration of the natural vegetation types
of the United States. This represents the first time the nation's natural terrestrial
communities have been classified using a single system on a scale fine enough
to be useful for the conservation of specific sites. Seeing the Forest and the
Trees describes the classification and identifies major opportunities for applying
it to meet the challenge of conserving our rich natural heritage.
to conserve biological diversity can be directed at different biological
and ecological levels, ranging from genes to species to communities
and ecosystems. Communities are essentially assemblages of species
that co-occur and have the ability to interact with one another. Communities, however, are more than the sum of their species;
they also represent the myriad biological and environmental interactions
that are inherently part of each unique natural system. By describing,
tracking, and preserving communities, we can protect a complex suite
of organisms, interactions, and processes not easily identified
and protected through other means.
How Is the Classification Being Used?
The Conservancy is dedicated to conserving the best, most
viable occurrences of all community types, focusing special attention on types
that are extremely rare or imminently endangered. Because the classification
is standardized across the nation, ecologists can assess and rank each community
type based on its relative degree of imperilment on a rangewide basis.
An awareness of the scope of the imperilment problem is one
of the most sobering, but potentially useful, insights to emerge from the development
of a national community classification. Seeing the Forest and the Trees
presents six encouraging examples of how The Nature Conservancy and its partners
are using ecological classification to meet the challenge, within the United
States and beyond:
- Preserving the rarest communities in the Great Lakes states.
- Preserving habitats and species in North Carolina.
- Creating a blueprint for conservation success in the Intermountain West.
- Detecting gaps in protection in Superior National Forest, Minnesota.
- Meeting our global stewardship responsibilities in Guantanamo Bay Naval
- Understanding our national park lands: Scotts Bluff National Monument, Nebraska.
PDF file of report (2.62M)