Agency using biodiversity mapping to help plant, animal conservation |

Agency using biodiversity mapping to help plant, animal conservation

The Nevada Division of Natural Heritage has partnered with nonprofit NatureServe to unveil the Nevada Map of Biodiversity Importance, a smart-technology platform providing the latest scientific intel to help guide key strategies for the protection of the state’s most vulnerable plant and animal species.

NatureServe uses the endangered species rating system (1 being critically endangered to 5 being very common and safe from endangerment) as well as 200 different variables to see where species likely are and their best habitat.

NatureServe then gives this information to local conservancy and natural heritage groups that can go out to those supposed habitats to see if species are there.

“It’s impossible for scientists to look at every inch of ground,” said Sean O’Brien, NatureServe president and CEO. “This provides a model for where there might be good habitat for endangered species.”

When it comes to conservation work, the map can allow conservationists to narrow down the areas that need protection. This can make it easier for groups to lobby for those areas.

“The thing that’s exciting about the data is it can be used to reduce conflict when trying to conserve biodiversity,” O’Brien said.

That is especially important in an area like Lake Tahoe where there is conflict between tourism and environmental conservation.

The Tahoe Yellow Cress, for example, is critically endangered in Nevada. According to, “Tahoe yellow cress is a small native plant that grows on the shoreline of Lake Tahoe and nowhere else in the world. It lives only on the sandy beaches and dunes at the ever-changing margin of the lake.”

It is not realistic to mark-off all of Tahoe’s shoreline for conservation work but it is realistic to mark-off small areas where TYC is thriving.

“There is a fine line of managing species vs. public interest in the lake,” NDNH biologist Kristin Szabo told the Tribune.

Szabo is the local contact for NatureServe on the project.

Another species that the map could help is Tahoe Whitlow-Grass, also known as Tahoe Draba. The grass grows in rocky areas in the high alpines. Szabo said it grows in areas near Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe and Heavenly Mountain Resort, so they can use this data to highlight where those areas are if the resorts want to expand.

“With more than 350 native species that live exclusively in the Silver State, Nevada is home to some of the most unique and diverse plant and animal species in the world,” said Szabo in a press release. “As part of our mission, the Nevada Division of Natural Heritage is committed to providing science-based biodiversity data to ensure informed conservation and land-use planning decisions. I want to compliment NatureServe on their forward-looking approach to exhibiting biodiversity data as a step in supporting Nevada-wide habitat management.”

NatureServe’s next project will be to run models under climate change.

To learn more, visit

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