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Scientific Investigations Map 3106

Prepared in collaboration with NatureServe

Terrestrial Ecosystems of the Conterminous United States

By Roger Sayre, Patrick Comer, Jill Cress, and Harumi Warner

Thumbnail of and link to SIM 3106 Sheet PDF (47.1 MB)

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), with support from NatureServe, has modeled the potential distribution of 419 terrestrial ecosystems for the conterminous United States using a comprehensive biophysical stratification approach that identifies distinct biophysical environments and associates them with known vegetation distributions. This standardized ecosystem mapping effort used an ecosystems classification developed by NatureServe. The ecosystem mapping methodology was developed for South America and is now being implemented globally. The biophysical stratification approach is based on mapping the major structural components of ecosystems (land surface forms, topographic moisture potential, surficial lithology, isobioclimates and biogeographic regions) and then spatially combining them to produce a set of unique biophysical environments.

These physically distinct areas are considered as the fundamental structural units (“building blocks”) of ecosystems and are subsequently aggregated and labeled using the NatureServe classification. The structural footprints were developed from the geospatial union of several base layers including biogeographic regions, isobioclimates, land surface forms, topographic moisture potential, and surficial lithology. Among the 49,168 unique structural footprint classes that resulted from the union, 13,482 classes met a minimum pixel count threshold (20,000 pixels) and were aggregated into 419 NatureServe ecosystems using a semiautomated labeling process based on rule-set formulations for attribution of each ecosystem.

The resulting ecosystems are those that are expected to occur based on the combination of the bioclimate, biogeography, and geomorphology. Where land use by humans has not altered land cover, natural vegetation assemblages are expected to occur, and these are described in the ecosystems classification. The map does not show the distribution of urban and agricultural areas—these will be masked out in subsequent analyses to depict the current land cover in addition to the potential distribution of natural ecosystems. This map depicts the smoothed and generalized image of the terrestrial ecosystems dataset.

First posted January 11, 2010

For additional information contact:

Rocky Mountain Geographic Science Center
Box 25046, Mail Stop 516
Denver, CO 80225

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

Sayre, Roger, Comer, Patrick, Cress, Jill, and Warner, Harumi, 2010, Terrestrial ecosystems of the conterminous United States: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 3106, scale 1:5,000,000, 1 sheet.

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