Core Science Analytics and Synthesis - USGS-NPS Vegetation Characterization Program
Forty-five miles of rustic carriage roads weave through Acadia National Park, the gift of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and family. Rockefeller desired to travel on motor-free byways via horse and carriage. His construction efforts, from 1913 through 1940, resulted in roads with sweeping vistas and close-up views of the landscape. The Park is rehabilitating some of the vistas from the carriage roads. The USGS-NPS vegetation mapping data will be especially useful in this effort. Vegetation height and density classes are expected to be integrated into the design to recreate the scenes that Rockefeller wrote about.
At Acadia National Park a middle school teacher has volunteered to create a lesson plan on vegetation mapping using a small area of the Park as the focus for this lesson. Duplicate aerial photographs have been acquired, and students will produce a vegetation map which they will compare with the vegetation mapping program products.
Historic trail system maintenance and planning at Acadia National Park will be augmented using the program data. Park staff will overlay the existing and historic trail system on the vegetation map to analyze the percentage of trails in the various vegetation types. This information will be included in the decision making process for determining the closure of existing trails and/or reopening of former trail sections. This study would be very difficult to accomplish without the USGS-NPS vegetation mapping data. In order to approximate this analysis, Park staff would have to hike the entire trail system and make extensive written observations.
At Acadia National Park the USGS-NPS vegetation data has been used in the decision making process concerning location of a new site for a water storage tank. The process included visual appearance analyses incorporating the heights, densities, and canopy closure of the vegetation.
Voyageurs National Park is using the vegetation mapping data in the creation of a new fire management plan. This plan will define the use of prescribed fires. The USGS-NPS vegetation classes can easily be mapped to fire fuel types. Percent canopy-cover and ground-to-base-of-crown information can be incorporated and this information can then be used as an input into FARSITE or other fire behavior models. Fire behavior modeling programs are useful for managing both prescribed and wild fires.
Fire management at Zion National Park includes both prescribed and wild fire management. Fires can be prescribed for several reasons including fuel reduction for human safety and for encouraging ecological processes. The USGS-NPS vegetation mapping data will be included in the fire management models with the goals of: optimizing the use of funds and staff, using prescribed fire in areas with the greatest need, and doing the best possible job of predicting wild and prescribed fire behavior.
Acadia National Park is faced with a series of questions relating to the issue of conservation of biological diversity. These questions range from "What birds nest in park estuaries", and "What role do park estuaries play as staging habitat for migratory birds?" to "How have beaver populations responded to forest succession?" and "What are cost-effective techniques to control highly invasive non-native plants at the park, including Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), alder buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula), and oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculata)?" These issues and more are expected to be addressed by researchers in association with the park, with the use of the USGS-NPS vegetation mapping program data. One initial application will be the modeling of bird species potentially inhabiting an estuary, based on the vegetation types that grow there. This will contribute to research on the effects of nearby development. The vegetation data is expected to be used to determine the best places for bird surveys.
Other research at Acadia National Park includes a study of how amphibian populations are effected by natural changes (e.g., beaver dams and ecological succession) and anthropogenic changes (road building, path construction, and beaver and fire management) in wetland ecosystems. Field work will likely focus on patterns of amphibian species distribution and abundance in relation to wetland vegetation and other parameters. The USGS-NPS vegetation mapping data will be very useful in the identification and location of the wetland ecosystems to be studied.
The topography and location of Acadia National Park combine to create a situation where the southern coastal deciduous forest meets the northern coniferous forest. Many plants reach the edge of their range within Acadia National Park. The northern limits of distribution of Bear Oak (Quercus ilicifolia) and Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) and the southern limits of Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana) are found within the Park. Seaside Mertensia (Mertensia maritima)is found within the Park; elsewhere it grows only in a much more arctic environment. The USGS-NPS vegetation mapping program data provides baseline data for studies of range changes that may occur as a result of climate change.
A diverse team of researchers from NPS, USGS, and the University of Maine is studying regional patterns and responses of nitrogen and mercury biogeochemistry at Acadia National Park. To further NPS understanding of the effects of atmospheric deposition and climate change on forested watersheds and surface waters, a long-term study is planned to determine levels of mercury inputs to landscapes, identify locations and processes of mercury deposition, resolve the status of nitrogen retention in forests, and estimate nitrogen-loading to selected park estuaries. The USGS-NPS vegetation mapping data will be used to identify burned and unburned forests where streams will be gauged to track nitrogen and mercury deposition into and out of these watersheds.
Several vegetation related studies are under way at Acadia National Park that will use the USGS-NPS vegetation mapping data. Objectives of these studies include determination of the threat to Park ecosystems by invasive non-native plants, the development of a rare plant monitoring program, and the current and future distributions of pitch and Jack pine (Pinus rigida, Pinus banksiana) in Maine.
Assateague Island National Seashore is host to an on-going research project on Yellow-rumped warblers (Dendroica coronata).
These birds winter in the park, at which time one of the staples of their diet is wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera). Using the
vegetation mapping data to select vegetation types containing wax myrtle allows for a more robust research sampling design.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park's Vegetation Map is contributing to advanced remote sensing research for mapping invasive leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) in and adjacent to the park. A team of scientists from the NPS, USGS, and the University of California, Davis have been analyzing AVIRIS data collected over the park to examine the feasibility of detecting and mapping leafy spurge via imaging spectroscopy. The recently completed USGS-NPS Vegetation map at Theodore Roosevelt National Park has proven to be a valuable aid in this research. Read More>>
Assateague Island National Seashore is using the USGS-NPS vegetation classification system in their potential habitat monitoring research. The north end of Assateague Island has significantly eroded due to the stabilization of an inlet and the subsequent sand starvation of the northern end of the island. In order to avoid a possible break-up of the island, there is a proposal to add sand to the affected area at the northern tip of the island. However, this might change the amount of potential habitat available for two federally listed species found in the area, piping plover (Charadrius melodus) and seabeach amaranth (Amaranthus pumilus). By using the USGS-NPS vegetation classification system within field transect efforts, Assateague Island National Seashore is able to monitor the amount of potential habitat available now and into the future. If this proposed sand deposition occurs, the park will have sufficient information to assess the effects on the availability of habitat for these endangered species.
The exotic species, nutria (Myocastor coypus), is a major problem where ever it has invaded. It disturbs the root matt of the marsh plants while creating swim canals and foraging. This kills marsh plants and turns salt marsh to wash flats. Assateague Island National Seashore has used the USGS-NPS vegetation mapping data to derive a potential nutria habitat map for use in their eradication efforts.
Vegetation mapping data is being used at Voyageurs National Park in the development of a stratified sampling plan for muskrat (
Ondatra zibethicus) distribution and population studies.
Also at Voyageurs National Park, the vegetation types are being used in the process of establishing forest breeding bird survey point locations. Preferred vegetation types are identified, then points are located in the GIS using the vegetation map and appropriate buffers are applied. These points are displayed over digital ortho quads and/or digital raster graphics. The points are navigated to using these maps in association with landmarks and GPS units, and if necessary, the point locations may then be modified.
The USGS-NPS vegetation mapping program commonly collects height, density, and pattern information about the vegetation. Zion National Park is making use of the pattern data to incorporate a "patchiness" factor into their habitat modeling efforts. The level of patchiness can have a large impact on habitat preferences. Some species prefer vegetation patterns which are more patchy, while other species prefer more homogeneous vegetation cover. The Park is expecting to use the vegetation mapping data for modeling habitat of a variety of species, including desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni), mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis lucida), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrines), southwest willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus), northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), virgin river spinedace (Lepidomeda mollispinus mollispinus), and desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii).
Invasive plants are a problem within Zion National Park as they are for many National Parks. Zion National Park expects that the vegetation mapping data will be used to predict areas of infestation of invasive exotic species such as cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), tamarix (Tamarix ramossisima), Scotch thistle (Onopordum acanthium), and mullein (Verbascum thapsus) which will allow for better planning and focusing of restoration work.
Texts and photos courtesy of our contributors:
Linda Gregory, Botanist, Acadia National Park
Chris Lea, Biologist, Assateague Island National Seashore
Ralph Root, Geospatial Applications Specialist, Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Jim Schaberl, Biologist, Voyageurs National Park
Sam Lammie, Voyageurs National ParkDan Cohan, GIS Specialist, Zion National Park