CAN NATURESERVE TELL YOU ABOUT YOUR STATE'S WILDLIFE?
by Whit Gibbons
September 28, 2008
find out how your state compares with others in regard to the status of
native wildlife, number of rare species, and how many species have gone
extinct in modern times? A nonprofit conservation organization called
NatureServe has collected the data and provided the summaries for easy
visited NatureServe headquarters in Arlington, Va., to learn more about
their mission "to provide the scientific basis for effective conservation
action." Their primary goal is the admirable one of providing simple-to-use
access to trustworthy scientific data on regional biodiversity, the natural
variety of life. Among those who use the information are "conservationists,
government agencies, corporations, and landowners." The presentation
of the material is readily accessible by, and should be of interest to,
the general public.
accomplishes its data collection goals by working in partnership with
a network of state natural heritage programs that operate throughout the
United States, as well as with conservation data centers in Canada and
much of Latin America. Field biologists associated with the natural heritage
programs collect and analyze data about regional flora and fauna. The
information gathered provides not only a general overview of biological
diversity but also specific findings on the location and status of rare,
threatened, and endangered species. The data allow assessment of the health
and general condition of ecological communities within the region.
biological features considered are how rare different species are, what
their level of ecological risk is, how many native species have disappeared
from the region, and what the level of endemism is within each state.
Endemism means that a particular species is distinctive in being found
in a prescribed geographic region but not occurring naturally in other
areas. In their appraisal of conservation challenges across the nation,
the NatureServe programs conclude that in the dozen highest-risk states,
at least one in every 10 native species is at risk, a disturbingly high
out the ecological status of particular species or where they are found,
visit NatureServe Explorer at www.natureserve.org/explorer.
With a bit of navigating you can determine what species are in any state
and which species are extinct, imperiled, or believed to be environmentally
secure anywhere in the country. Some of the species accounts have photographs
and provide information about their natural history. The process of determining
species status is of course an ongoing one that will never end, as the
distribution and abundance of species change constantly from both natural
and man-made causes. But the unceasing NatureServe programs continually
update the status of species.
your state ranks in biodiversity based on analysis of data for more than
20,000 plant and animal species tracked by the natural heritage programs.
"States of the Union: Ranking America's Biodiversity" is found
on the NatureServe home page (www.natureserve.org)
under Publications/NatureServe Publications. Scroll down 14 items and
you can read the executive summary online or download the report. NatureServe
ranks the states in terms of various biodiversity attributes. Four states
are identified as having "exceptional levels of biodiversity":
California, Hawaii, Texas, and Alabama.
states, from Virginia and the Carolinas to Louisiana and Arkansas, are
in the top 20, underscoring the high biodiversity of the region when compared
to the rest of North America. The report notes that Alabama "is home
to an exceptionally rich freshwater fauna, thanks to an ancient and complex
geological terrain and more than 235,000 miles of waterways spanning three
major river basins." Similar statements about topography and special
habitats can be made about many of the other southern states including
South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia. Many natural features of the Southeast
provide homes for some of the most interesting plant and animal wildlife
in the country.
on Alabama's biodiversity ends with a statement that is unfortunately
applicable in one sense or another to virtually all the states: "Many
of the state's rivers and streams have now been dammed [or] otherwise
severely altered, leading to the high levels of risk and extinction among
Alabama's diverse species." We need to pay attention and take action
to ensure that we pass on to our children a country with healthy lands
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