Each year millions of Americans visit one or more of the nation's large system of nature reserves. These areas serve to protect, preserve, and showcase the natural beauty of the American landscape.
However, according to an article in the August edition of Ecological Applications, they are not accomplishing a critical task: preserving the biodiversity of plant and animal species present in the lower-48 states. The research demonstrates that despite covering approximately 420,000 square kilometers, America's arrangement of nature reserves fails to encompass the full range of the nation's biodiversity.
The research team, led by J. Michael Scott of the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of Fish and Wildlife at the University of Idaho, built upon past studies, some of which illustrated that as much as one third of vegetation types are not found within protected lands.
The team examined the distribution of ecological zones in comparison to the location of national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, and designated wilderness areas, Indian reservations, county parks, and other areas having permanent protection from conversion of natural land cover.
Their conclusion: nature reserves are unevenly distributed across ecological zones, and therefore preserve only a small portion of the plants and animals that call America home.
"The current network of nature reserves in the coterminous United States is the result of lands being set aside not in accordance with a well-thought-out ecological plan, but rather because the lands lacked value for commercial uses, human habitation, or because of scenic or recreational value," argues Scott, primary investigator for the study. "These 'lands nobody wanted' don't come close to representing the natural variation found in the U.S."
The authors divided the lower-48 states into three broad ecological domains: Eastern Humid Domain, Western Humid Temperate, and Dry Temperate do
Contact: Nadine Lymn
Ecological Society of America