New Species Habitat Distribution Maps Now Support Conservation Planning at a National Scale

Release Date:

A new dataset of habitat distribution for terrestrial vertebrate species in the conterminous United States is now available from the USGS.

FEATURES:

  • This habitat distribution and species range information is a foundational data set for the USGS National Biogeographic Map, which is being developed to make biodiversity data and analytical tools more widely available to land managers and decision makers. These data and tools will provide robust scientific characterization of species and habitats and the associated conservation protections and threats to better inform landscape-scale decisions.
  • The species distribution data was created by modeling the predicted habitat of each of 1,600 terrestrial vertebrate species, based on 2001 nationwide land cover data (USGS-GAP 2016) interpreted with an authoritative database of relationships between vegetation and species, along with other environmental data.
  • These data have been used in a variety of nationwide, regional, and ecosystem-level assessments (see examples) and help further the long-term protection of the nation’s biodiversity by allowing more effective assessment of the conservation status of native vertebrates. Land managers and policy makers can use this data to make better-informed decisions when identifying priority areas or species for conservation.
  • Data download and resources.

BACKGROUND

Widespread public support for conservation and environmental protection has resulted in important achievements over the past five decades. Despite these many accomplishments, there are still species that were once common but are now threatened. While many factors contribute to the decline of biological diversity, scientists have learned that one looms above all others: habitat loss.

American Bittern (Botanurus lentiginosus)

American Bittern (Botanurus lentiginosus), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (Public domain.)

As native habitats are altered, fragmented, or eliminated, native species decrease, the protection of species and natural communities before they become threatened is a highly effective strategy. This approach avoids the conflicts and costs involved when species become threatened or endangered. But to secure these natural communities requires critical biogeographic information.

These issues are one of the driving factors of the USGS Science Analytics and Synthesis (SAS) biogeographic science efforts. Our vision is that decisions about the conservation and management of natural resources are optimized using accurate and timely information on the nation’s biodiversity resources. Our mission is to provide robust scientific characterization of species and habitats and the associated conservation protections and threats in the U.S. and its territories, under past and present conditions and with projections into the future, to better inform landscape-scale decisions.

To carry out this mission, we are developing the National Biogeographic Map, designed to integrate and expand a wide range of biological data and analysis for use by land managers, decision makers, and others addressing biodiversity challenges. These species data are one of the foundational data sets in the Map.

 “The USGS GAP has a long history of contributing to the conservation of our Nation’s plant and animal species,” says Ryan Perkl, Esri Green Infrastructure Lead. “Esri is eager to integrate these data into its Green Infrastructure Initiative, a collection of authoritative newly generated and existing data, models, online applications, and other resources aimed at empowering individuals and organizations engaged in land conservation efforts.  The program information will also be made available through the ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World, which provides decision makers with robust information related to species distributions and biodiversity.”

ABOUT THE SPECIES DATA

These species data have been developed through the USGS Gap Analysis Project (GAP) within SAS. GAP’s mission is to provide state, regional, and national biodiversity assessments of the conservation status of native vertebrate species and natural land cover types and to facilitate the application of this information to land management activities.

Status map depicting the habitat of the American Bittern

Status map depicting the habitat of the American Bittern (Botanurus lentiginosus) Shaded areas indicate where it is predicted to occur throughout its summer, winter, and year-round ranges. (Public domain). Downloadable files of this example map.:

The GAP habitat maps are representations of the spatial distribution of suitable environmental and land cover conditions for individual species within the United States.  Specifically, the maps show places within a species’ range where the environment is predicted to be suitable for the species to occur, while areas not included in the map are those predicted to be unsuitable for the species to occur. 

The Species Habitat Distribution Models are essential to organize and assess the long-term protection of biodiversity for the nation, and are required to assess the conservation status of native vertebrates and facilitate the application of this information to land management activities.

The habitat distribution maps are provided as geotiff rasters at 30-meter resolution.  The value attribute in the dataset indicate the season of habitat use (Summer Only, Winter Only, or Year-Round).  The range data are provided as comma delimited files that can be linked to a polygon dataset to create the range map, or the individual species ranges can be downloaded as a shapefile.  Attributes for the ranges include species origin, occurrence (extant, possibly present, extirpated), reproductive use, and season.

GAP works with partners to develop species data and other datasets supporting the National Biogeographic Map.  Biologists at Boise State University and the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units at North Carolina State University and New Mexico State University are key collaborators in the species modeling efforts.

Key Features of the Species Ranges and Habitat Maps

  • Species known range maps are represented by modified 12-digit hydrologic units (HUCs) with attributes for origin (native, introduced, reintroduced, vagrant), occurrence (extant, possibly present, potentially present, extirpated), reproductive use (breeding, non-breeding, both) and season (year-round, summer, winter, migratory, vagrant). Data is available from the USGS Gap Analysis Project Species Range Maps ScienceBase item at https://www.sciencebase.gov/catalog/item/5951527de4b062508e3b1e79.
  • Species predicted habitat maps are built using a national wildlife habitat relational database based on habitat associations described in published literature. The maps are created at 30-meter resolution using core datasets, including detailed land cover, elevation, and hydrological characteristics (for example, salinity, water type, and velocity). All data, including model inputs, are available from the USGS Gap Analysis Project Species Habitat Maps ScienceBase item at https://www.sciencebase.gov/catalog/item/527d0a83e4b0850ea0518326.
  • Species predicted habitat maps include winter, summer, and year-round designations.
  • To date, information on 1590 species and 219 subspecies within the conterminous United States (CONUS) is available.

As a Federal Geographic Data Committee designated National Geospatial Data Asset, GAP’s Species Habitat Distribution Maps are the authoritative data for the terrestrial vertebrates of the United States. For anyone who manages, studies, or has policy oversight over large landscapes, these species habitat distribution maps are an indispensable tool for conservation planning. 

Uses of Species Data

GAP habitat maps and the models used to create them can be useful in the following applications:

  • Regional and national assessments of the protected area network, conservation planning, and spatial conservation prioritization for biodiversity conservation (i.e., complementarity, redundancy, representation; Scott et al. 1993), including climate adaptation (Groves et al. 2012). 
  • Mapping alpha, beta, and gamma species diversity, and evaluating the spatial coincidence of biodiversity hotspots among taxa and groups of species (Scott et al. 1993).
  • Broad-scale data for multi-scale, multi-species habitat conservation assessments (Scott et al. 1993, Probst and Gustafson 2009).
  • Habitat maps can be used to exclude areas of unsuitable land cover from more commonly available range maps which delineate broad geographic extents. They can also be used to complement predictive species occurrence maps created with data-driven species distribution models that make predictions based upon climatic and geophysical variables (Scott et al. 1993).
  • Using biogeography to provide context for inquiries into species at risk or benefit from mappable land cover changes or regions of interest (e.g., urbanization and climate refugia).
  •  Species-specific landscape analyses (Probst and Gustafson 2009).
  • Characterizing landscapes for multi-scale, spatially-explicit population and species distribution models.
  • Broad-scale data for coarse-filter steps in multi-scale, multi-species wildlife conservation assessments and planning (Probst and Gustafson 2009).
  • Identifying places of interest for wildlife observation and study, and stratifying effort in wildlife surveys (Scott et al. 1993).
  • Testing the performance of indicator species in representing all species in habitat protection assessments (Scott et al. 1993).

Citations:

Groves, CR, Game, E.T., Anderson, M.G., Cross, M., Enquist, C., Ferdaña, Z., Girvetz, E., Gondor, A., Hall, K.R., Higgins, J., Marshall, R., Popper, K., Schill, S., and Shafer, S., 2012, Incorporating climate change into systematic conservation planning. Biodiversity Conservation 21:1651-1671.

 Probst, J.R., and Gustafson, E.J., 2009, A multiscale, stepwise approximation approach for wildlife conservation assessment and planning. In Models for Planning Wildlife Conservation in Large Landscapes (Joshua J. Millspaugh and Frank R. Thompson, III editors.) Academic Press. 688 pages.

Scott, J.M., Davis, F., Csuti, B., Noss, R., Butterfield, B., Groves, C., Anderson, H., Caicco, S., D'Erchia, F., Edwards, Jr.,T.C.,  Ulliman, J., and Wright, R.G., 1993, Gap Analysis: A Geographic Approach to Protection of Biological Diversity. Wildlife Monographs. No. 123, pp. 3-41.

U.S. Geological Survey Gap Analysis Program, 20160513, GAP/LANDFIRE National Terrestrial Ecosystems 2011: U.S. Geological Survey, https://doi.org/10.5066/F7ZS2TM0

Other Example Uses of Species Data

Graphic indicating the linkage between species richness maps and the Biodiversity Metric in EnviroAtlas

Graphic indicating the linkage between species richness maps and the Biodiversity Metric in EnviroAtlas.  Species richness maps based on the USGS GAP species range and habitat distribution maps are central to the Biodiversity Metrics used in EPA’s EnviroAtlas.

Boykin, K.G., Kepner, W.G., Bradford, D.F., Guy, R.K., Kopp, D.A., Leimer, A.K., Samson, E.A., East, N.F., Neale, A.C., Gergely, K.J., 2013, A national approach for mapping and quantifying habitat-based biodiversity metrics across multiple spatial scales. Ecological Indicators, Biodiversity Monitoring 33, 139–147. doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2012.11.005 (Public domain.)

EPA’s EnviroAtlas Biodiversity Metric - Audubon Climate - Threatened Bird Species Richness based on the GAP Species Habitat Dist

EPA’s EnviroAtlas Biodiversity Metric - Audubon Climate - Threatened Bird Species Richness based on the GAP Species Habitat Distribution models.

By integrating Gap’s species habitat distribution models with projections of future land use researchers were able to quantify the potential for habitat loss for key groups of wildlife species in the Southeast depending on different land use policies.

Martinuzzi, S., Pidgeon, A.M., Radeloff, V.C., Plantinga, A.J., Lewis, J.D., Whitey, J., McKerrow, A., Williams, S., and D. Helmers, D., 2015,  Impacts of future land-use changes on wildlife habitat: insights from Southeastern US. Ecological Applications 25(1)2015, 160-171. (Public domain.)

Geographic patterns of habitats loss for wildlife species under different scenarios of future land-use change

Geographic patterns of habitats loss for wildlife species under different scenarios of future land-use change 2001–2051. Values of species richness are also shown.

Thomas, K. A., Jarchow, C.J., Arundel, T.R., Jamwal, P., Borens, A., and Drost, C.A., 2018,  Landscape-scale wildlife species richness metrics to inform wind and solar energy facility siting: An Arizona case study.  Energy Policy 116(May) 2018, 145-152. (Public domain.)