Note: Chapter (8) is composed of the introduction section below followed by 5 numbered subsections (8.1, 8.2, …). These subsections discuss assessment of landscape and ecosystem dynamics, condition, connectivity, and climate change adaptation at different scales. Each of the subsections is followed by a “Resources” section with additional links and references of potential interest to the reader. After the last of these subsections is a “Literature Cited” section that contains all literature cited in the chapter.
Introduction: Adaptive landscape and ecosystem management
This chapter provides a background on conserving biodiversity at landscape and ecosystem scales. It covers facets of systematic assessment and planning for ecosystem representation, landscape dynamics, recovery and maintenance of ecosystem condition, and considerations of landscape connectivity. Subsection 8.5 introduces key aspects of monitoring with an emphasis on ecosystems and landscapes. Chapter 9 addresses managing for Threatened, Endangered, and At-Risk species.
Natural resource inventories document baseline information about the type, location, quantity, and other characteristics of specific resources. Terrestrial ecosystems are commonly described using vegetation, where rooted plants on land, or in shallow water, are readily recognized. Aquatic ecosystems, such as rivers, lakes, and oceans, do not support rooted plants and are often described in terms of their physical environment, hydrology, and fish or invertebrate animals.
Ecosystem classifications describe types of ecosystems present. That is, when one encounters vegetation or a lake or stream in the field, the classification attempts to answer the question, “what is it?,” and give it a name. Ecological classifications describing terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems provide an analogous function to plant or animal taxonomies, allowing for a practical categorization and description of types. In practice, they facilitate communication and the systematic accumulation of knowledge about recurring ecological patterns and processes.
Ecosystem classifications take a variety of forms. In terrestrial environments, a focus on plant assemblages, or vegetation, is quite common (FGDC, 2008; Faber-Langendoen et al. 2014), while others emphasize geophysical components affecting wetland hydrology or soil productivity (Brinson, 1993; Caudle et al., 2013) or some combination of the two (Comer et al. 2003, Cowardin et al. 2013). The U.S. National Vegetation Classification (USNVC) is the federal standard for describing vegetation and is often used in vegetation-based inventories. In aquatic environments, ecological classifications are much more limited, but they tend to emphasize geophysical attributes (hydrologic regime and water chemistry) in type definition (Higgins et al., 2005; Sowa et al., 2007).
Ecosystem maps then answer the question: “where is it?” They depict the location of ecosystem types in space and time. Ecosystem inventory may then combine information on the ecosystem types and locations, and then quantify aspects such as the composition and abundance, answering the question of how much is there?
Vegetation inventories primarily document the extent and pattern of vegetation types, and often form a foundation for understanding wildlife habitat, rangeland and forest productivity, and other upland and wetland natural resources on any given land area. An understanding of the vegetation types, and how they form recurring patterns on the landscape, as well as knowledge of expected plant community composition and dynamics, is critical for guiding land management decisions.
Next Page: Box 8.1: Ecosystem mapping
Patrick Comer, Ph.D., Chief Ecologist