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Wisconsin's natural communities
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about Species of Greatest Conservation Need
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For more information on the Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan, contact:
Shari Koslowsky
WWAP coordinator
608-261-4382

Natural communities and their Species of Greatest Conservation NeedWisconsin Wildlife Action Plan

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Bittersweet Lakes State Natural Area, photo by Eric Epstein, Wisconsin DNR.

Quick linksWisconsin's natural communities | SGCN-NC association scores [CSV]

The SGCN-natural community connection

Almost all Species of Greatest Conservation Needs (SGCN) are classified as such in part, because the area of habitat suitable for their survival has been decreased or it has been degraded or fragmented below their tolerance and ability to adapt and sustain viable populations. Assessment and management within natural community types is the most effective way to sustain SGCNs that are declining because of habitat limitations.

The Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan considers 108 natural community types grouped as aquatic (lakes-rivers), barrens, grassland, northern forest, savanna, southern forest, wetland and miscellaneous based on Natural Heritage Inventory classifications. This includes:

  • 15 lake and other aquatic community types not considered in WWAP1;
  • conifer plantation and aspen natural community types;
  • seral stages for northern mesic, dry forest, dry-mesic community types;
  • estimated vulnerability of community types to climate change, summarized from Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments; and
  • anthropogenically influenced community types: transportation and utility corridors, conifer plantation, surrogate grasslands and subterraneous openings.

Natural community or habitat?

A natural community is an interactive assemblage of plants, animals and other organisms, their physical environment and the natural processes that affect them. Together they play a key role in determining a species’ ability to survive. Natural communities occur in patterns on the landscape, range in size and change over time. Collections of native plants and animals that consistently occur together under similar conditions allow us to classify natural communities, which helps us to process and interpret these factors and relationships at larger landscape and smaller species population levels.

Habitat is the combination of environmental factors that provide food, water, cover and space that a living thing needs to survive and reproduce. A habitat is an ecological or environmental area that is inhabited by a particular plant or animal species. Like natural communities, habitat is also made up of physical factors such as soil, moisture, range of temperature, and availability of light as well as biotic factors such as the availability of food or nutrients and the presence of predators.

Natural communities and habitat consider similar factors—but from different perspectives. In the WWAP, natural communities are the most comprehensive way we have to represent habitat for SGCNs. They comprise one of the three basic elements (SGCN, natural communities and ecological landscapes) used to help identify priority conservation actions and Conservation Opportunity Areas in Wisconsin. More details on how natural communities were identified and used in the WWAP are provided in Section 2. Approach and Methods [PDF] of the 2015-2025 Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan.

Conservation actions for natural communities and SGCN habitat

Conservation actions may be written specifically for natural communities and not for a particular species or assemblage of species. Notwithstanding, most actions aimed at conserving SGCNs relate to their habitat (or community where used as a proxy for habitat) and can, therefore, be applied broadly to large suites of species.

Natural community and species teams identified the most important issues and threats that affect or are likely to affect natural community types over the next ten years. The conservation actions and monitoring page provide conservation actions for each natural community group in the WWAP. Go to Section 4. Natural Communities Associated with SGCN of the Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan to download the full text of natural community issues and actions.

Venn diagram showing the relationship between Species of Greatest Conservation Need, natural communities and ecological landscapes

Natural community-ecological landscape opportunity score (NC-EL score)

Each natural community type is distributed differently throughout the state, which contributes to the characteristics of each ecological landscape. Accordingly, opportunities to sustain these communities also vary by landscape. The WWAP scores the relationship between natural communities and ecological landscapes through natural community-ecological landscape opportunity scores (NC-EL score).

NC-EL scores are assigned as High (=3), Moderate (=2), Low (=1) or None (=0) and may be used individually and in combination with SGCN-natural community and SGCN-ecological landscape scores to make decisions about protection, resource use and land management at different scales. NC-EL opportunity scores are sometimes referred to as NC-EL association scores.

Download the NC-EL opportunity scores [CSV] for natural community types within each ecological landscape.

Last revised: Thursday January 12 2017