Nature’s Network Conservation Design
The best long-term strategy for sustaining natural resources at scales that matter for wildlife and people is to keep the most important lands and waters intact and connected.
Quick start guide
- The terrestrial core-connector network is made up of two components: 1) terrestrial and wetland core areas, and 2) connectors. Terrestrial and wetland core areas are intact, well-connected places that have the potential to support wildlife and plants that occur in terrestrial settings (such as upland forests) or in wetlands (such as marshes). These core areas contain important or unique features, including intact, resilient examples of every major ecosystem type in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Core areas contain widespread ecosystems (such as hardwood forests), rare natural communities (such as bogs), and important habitat for a variety of fish, wildlife, and plants. By design, they encompass approximately 25% of the landscape of the region. Core areas are linked together by a network of connectors. If protected, the connectors will foster the movement of animals and plants between core areas and across the landscape into the future. Another product associated with terrestrial and wetland core areas that you may wish to explore is the set of road-bounded natural blocks, which are natural areas that surround and help support the integrity of core areas. This set of products also includes a network of core areas for grassland birds. Due to their unique association with habitat that has been created and maintained for human use, grassland birds are treated separately from wildlife that use habitat such as forests and wetlands. A subset of the grassland bird core areas, those representing the top 10% of grassland habitat of the region, are incorporated into Nature’s Network Conservation Design.
- Aquatic core areas are intact, well-connected stream reaches, lakes, and ponds in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region that, if protected as part of stream networks and watersheds, will support a broad diversity of aquatic species and the ecosystems on which they depend. They serve as the aquatic counterpart to terrestrial and wetland core areas. They feature intact, resilient examples of every major aquatic ecosystem in the region and also are designed to incorporate habitat for important species such as brook trout, American shad and Atlantic salmon. By design, aquatic core areas encompass approximately 30% of both the region’s river and stream miles (lotic core areas) and the region’s area of lakes and ponds (lentic core areas). A product associated with aquatic core areas that you may wish to explore is the set of aquatic buffers, which are upslope and upstream areas that have a strong influence on the integrity of the aquatic cores.
- Core habitat for imperiled species can be viewed as relatively intact areas that contain habitats likely to support high levels of imperiled terrestrial and aquatic species. This product represents a regional network of habitats critical for sustaining populations of imperiled species, based on over 600 Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN). Core habitat for imperiled species is intended to complement aquatic core areas and terrestrial and wetland core areas by highlighting ecosystem (habitat) types where they are closely associated with high numbers of imperiled species. By design, core habitats encompass approximately the top 10% of natural landscapes estimated to be most important for sustaining imperiled species. If you wish to further explore the value of habitats for imperiled species, the product habitat condition for imperiled species depicts the ecological condition of ecosystem types most important for imperiled species.
Each of the components making up the Nature’s Network Conservation Design incorporate a set of foundational datasets, which are presented on the Nature’s Network web page for that product suite and in associated QuickStart guides and metadata. Two additional important products to explore include zones where tidal marshes could move as sea level rises (Marsh Migration Zones, Northeast U.S.) and patterns of landscape connectivity independent of terrestrial core areas (Regional Flow, Anthropogenic Resistance (Simplified Categories), Eastern U.S. and Canada). We encourage you to explore the full suite of products to understand how Nature’s Network can support your work.
- Nature’s Network Conservation Design, and the broader suite of products and tools of which it is part, offer voluntary guidance to:
- Protect the irreplaceable – identify the best places to start for strategic conservation: those which are intact and resilient places that encompass a diversity of lands and waters, and are important habitat for key species. These are the places we cannot afford to lose to ensure a sustainable future for human and natural communities in the Northeast.
- Look ahead to make better decisions today – ensure that today’s investments will pay off over time by considering how land use and environmental changes will affect natural resources in the future.
- Maximize limited resources – provide additional scientific guidance to allow us all to use limited resources more effectively.
- Reinforce local priorities with regional perspective – see how local conservation efforts fit into the bigger regional picture to help connect local, state and regional priorities.
- Find opportunities to work together – ensuring the future of fish, wildlife and natural benefits in the face of increasing threats is beyond the scope of any single organization. With the benefit of consistent regional data, partners can look across jurisdictional boundaries for opportunities to work together at scales that matter for people and wildlife.
In the map, “Important Habitats” correspond to core habitat for imperiled species, “Important Lands” correspond to terrestrial and wetland core areas, and “Important Waters” correspond to aquatic core areas. Areas of overlap among these components, which are identified as “Tier 1” areas, may be especially promising locales for conservation action.
You can get more information about Nature’s Network Conservation Design by turning on the individual component products that are available in the map but not activated when you open it. To see the list of these products, click on the “Layers” tab on the left side of the map. Click in the boxes to the left of the product names to activate them, and click on the arrows to the right of the product names to find out more details about the products and perform other tasks. Once a product is activated, you can also learn more about what you are seeing in the map. For example, if you turn on the Terrestrial Core-Connector Network, you can use the Identify Tool to click on a core area and find out more about why it is important.
Besides exploring Nature’s Network Conservation Design and the components that are already loaded into the map, you might explore it in combination with other products that you can add to the map by clicking on “add datasets,” which is visible when the “Layers” tab is open. For example, the Secured Lands (Eastern U.S.) layer can be used to identify the places in the network that remain unsecured from development, and thus could represent priorities for land protection. Also, the Probability of Development layers (2030 and 2080) can be used to identify places in the Conservation Design that are relatively vulnerable to future development, and thus could represent priorities for land protection.
With a free DataBasin account, you can also upload your organization’s priorities into a private map for comparison with Nature’s Network Conservation Design, or you can download the Nature’s Network products if your organization has GIS analysis capabilities.
Known issues and uncertainties
- The results do not incorporate important social, economic, or feasibility factors.
- Users are cautioned against using the data on too small an area (for example, a small parcel of land), as the data may not be sufficiently accurate at that level of resolution.
- While the ecosystem mapping is anticipated to correctly reflect broad patterns of ecosystem occurrence, errors in classification and placement do occur, as with any regional GIS data. In addition, errors in mapping and alignment of development, roads, traffic rates, and a number of other data layers can affect the model results.
- This product does not provide information about the properties of individual core areas. That information is available in the component products: the terrestrial core-connector network and the aquatic core areas.
- At this time, Nature’s Network does not assess underwater, benthic, offshore, or marine habitats. Estuaries and marine areas are, for the most part, not included in the conservation design, although there are some exceptions. Exceptions include cases where habitats for species that use estuaries (e.g., American black duck and diamond-backed terrapin) have been incorporated into terrestrial and wetland core areas.
- The identification of areas as providing habitat for imperiled species does not necessarily mean that imperiled species are actually present in those areas.