The Nature Conservancy Ecoregional Priorities

The Nature Conservancy Ecoregional Priorities

Ecoregional Assessment is one of two methods that The Nature Conservancy uses with partners both and to establish priorities for its conservation actions. This planning process assesses relatively large geographic areas delineated by large-scale patterns of climate, geology, biodiversity, and other ecological and environmental patterns.

The resulting plan provides a regional-scale, biodiversity-based context that defines a regional vision for conservation success while prioritizing and informing on-the-ground and in-the-water conservation actions. TNC currently identifies 67 terrestrial ecoregions in the conterminous 48 U.S. and another five and 11 ecoregions, respectively, in Hawaii and Alaska. In addition, its freshwater and marine ecoregions of the world have both been recently published in BioScience.

Each ecoregional assessment process leads to the design of an ecoregional portfolio. This vision for conservation success defines areas of biodiversity significance that strive to represent the full diversity of native species, natural communities, and ecosystems efficiently and in sufficient numbers and distribution patterns to sustain them for the long term. If managed appropriately, a portfolio is intended to maintain the ecological and evolutionary potential and long-term survival of all native life and natural communities, not just those that are rare, threatened or endangered. Ecoregional assessments have been developed for terrestrial, freshwater and marine biodiversity, both individually and in combination.

By highlighting areas believed to be both the most important and the most suitable for the conservation of representative biodiversity, ecoregional portfolios guide actions by the Conservancy and its public and private partners. In many cases, ecoregional assessments establish priorities within the broad portfolio.

A number of variables can effect the relative priority of an individual area, including:

  • the diversity of species, communities, and ecosystems
  • irreplaceable elements
  • numbers of rare and endangered elements
  • urgency for action due to threats, or
  • opportunities for leverage

Priority areas that encompass multiple sites or several portfolios or cross geopolitical boundaries have been defined through the use of wide-ranging biodiversity elements, patterns of pervasive critical threats, and institutional, stakeholder, and conservation mechanisms.

Designing ecoregion-based portfolios is an iterative process based on five primary analytical steps:

  • Identifying representative species, communities and ecosystems and other important conservation elements that need special attention in planning;
  • Setting specific goals for the number and extent of these conservation elements to be captured in the portfolio;
  • Assembling information and relevant data on conservation elements, including the location, size, or extent, relative viability and integrity, future threats to, and occurrences with existing protected and managed areas;
  • Designing a network of areas that most effectively and efficiently meets the goals, and;
  • Identifying the highest priority areas for conservation actions.

Learn more

Ecoregional Assessment standards, technical guidance and case studies

Library of available Ecoregional Assessment reports

Marine Ecoregions of the World (MEOW)

Freshwater Ecosystems of the World (FEOW)

Featured Ecoregional Priorities

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