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Ecological Field Sampling
Solutions for Measuring our Complex World

The NatureServe Network has developed numerous sampling protocols and databases that allow researchers, land managers, educators, and policy makers to better understand what natural communities exist, what they are composed of, their conservation status, and how they are changing over time. Using our protocols and databases, we collect the biological and environmental data to support the ecological classification, vegetation map creation, monitoring, and ecological integrity assessment and assist a wide range of clients in creating solutions that help them collect, store, and analyze their ecology data.


Successful field sampling requires a comprehensive knowledge of the ecosystems being sampled and an understanding of how the data being collected will be used to help answer important questions. With more than 150 ecologists on staff, the NatureServe Network has a wide range of ecological expertise across the United States and Canada and in most parts of Latin America. Our ecologists have a deep knowledge of the ecosystems of all of these regions and possess years of experience developing protocols and databases that describe natural communities, map vegetation types, determine conservation status, and answer key monitoring questions. 

Features & Benefits

The NatureServe network provides many products and services to assist in ecological field sampling. These include:

  • Ecological Classification: We have collected tens of thousands of plot-based points over the past four decades that are used to develop our vegetation classification products.
  • Vegetation mapping and accuracy assessment: Our protocols and databases are used to collect and house data for vegetation mapping, vegetation classification, and map accuracy assessment projects throughout the Western Hemisphere, including our own in-house mapping products and collaborations with mapping partners. For instance, most of the maps created by the National Park Service’s Vegetation Inventory Program relied on NatureServe Network expertise in vegetation community classification.
  • Monitoring: Our network frequently collaborates with partners to develop protocols and collect data to help us better understand changes occurring in our ecosystems so that we may understand and better respond to potential declines in ecosystem health.
  • Ecological integrity assessment: Our plot-based field sampling is often a key input for ecological integrity assessment projects thereby allowing us to better understand the ecological health of the places we are sampling.
  • Identifying rare natural communities: Plot based sampling can help identify rare natural community types within a given landscape. Many land managers use this information to help inform land management, pinpoint potential rare plant and animal occurrences, and plans for the future.
  • Climate change documentation: Natural communities are highly sensitive to changes in climate. Plot-based data can help researchers to better understand how climate change affects key ecosystems and use that information to continue to monitor and plan for the future.

Field sampling techniques vary by region, ecosystem type, and project goal. Contact Lesley Sneddon or your nearest natural heritage program in our Network Directory to learn more about ecology field sampling protocols and databases maintained by or recommended by the network.