CAN NATURESERVE TELL YOU ABOUT YOUR STATE'S WILDLIFE?
Want to 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 comparisons.
I recently 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.
NatureServe 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.
Among the 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 proportion.
To check 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.
See how 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.
All southeastern 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