Ecology Program

The mission of the Nevada Natural Heritage Program includes the coordination of resource needs of Nevada's diverse biological heritage with human activities. Since species do not live in isolation from each other or the landscape, this coordination naturally involves many ecological issues. The emphasis of ecology at the Nevada Natural Heritage Program is mapping and tracking vegetation types at risk in Nevada, and the factors contributing to risks. Plant communities can be used to assess the condition of ecosystems and the landscape. Plant communities also provide habitat for the thousands of native animals that call Nevada home. Through a better understanding of plant communities across the landscape, we can be better prepared to deal with issues of rare species as well as a variety of human issues that involve land use. 
Recent Projects
  • Nevada Indicators of Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems Database 
    The Nevada Indicators of Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems (iGDEs) Database was developed in 2019 by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in collaboration with the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW), Nevada Natural Heritage Program (NNHP), and Desert Research Institute (DRI) with partial funding from the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and NV Energy. It is a compilation of existing data on the indicators of groundwater dependent ecosystems including phreatophyte communities, wetlands, springs, lakes and playas, rivers and streams, and species in Nevada. This database uses existing data on vegetation, wetlands, and hydrology that did not have localized data on land use, hydrology, and geology in all areas. Therefore, the maps show iGDEs at various scales depending on the best available data source. The raw data on these data layers are summarized in the Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems in Nevada Story Map. Sources for data in the database include DRI, LANDFIRE, National Hydrography Dataset, NNHP, Springs Stewardship Institute, and TNC. To request any or all of the database data layers, please fill out and submit the request form.
Past Projects
  • Nevada Wetland Program Plan - The Nevada Natural Heritage Program completed a Nevada Wetland Program Plan (WPP) in accordance with the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Core Elements Framework. The focus of the WPP was determined based on a survey sent to stakeholders representing 16 state and federal agencies, three local government or tribal agencies, two universities, 10 non-profit organizations, three consulting firms and one mining corporation, as well as private stakeholders. Based on the stakeholder survey results, as well as the recognition that sustainable funding is imperative to the creation of long-term objectives and actions, the WPP focuses on three core program elements: Monitoring and Assessment, Voluntary Restoration and Protection, and Sustainable Financing. The goal of the WPP is to identify how resources and planning activities will be prioritized over the next six years. Specifically, the WPP seeks to integrate wetland research and management, monitoring and assessment, and protection and restoration projects occurring across the state to insure programs are complimentary, inform resource investments, and allow managers to understand and weigh tradeoffs among potential actions.
  • Nevada Springs Conservation Plan - This plan is the culmination of a partnership between the Nevada Natural Heritage Program (NNHP), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and the Desert Research Institute (DRI), and over three years of field work, data analysis, and conservation planning. Isolated springs in Nevada are often hotspots of biodiversity. Of the 69 highest priority conservation sites identified by the NNHP Scorecard in 2006, 53 of them are springs with globally rare biota. Springs are also critically important to Nevada citizens and to their livelihoods. Since the mid-1980’s, DRI has been accumulating and documenting information on spring condition throughout the state. The goals of this project were three-fold:

    1. Inventory select springs to assess vegetation and aquatic biota
    2. Maintain a database on current condition of these springs
    3. Use our knowledge of current and past conditions of sites to inform development of a Springs Conservation Plan
    This publication reports the results of the project including the assessed condition of 283 springs. Overall:
    · Less than half of the springs (41%) were in Good or Very Good physical condition and 13% of all springs were in  Poor condition;
    · There were no discernible changes in ground water discharge at 98% of the springs;
    · Highly invasive aquatic species were not found at most springs (79%) but at 5% of springs, two or more highly invasive aquatic species were present;
    · The composition of native riparian plants was Good or Very Good at almost half (48%) of the springs and in Poor condition at 18% of springs.
    We also highlight seven significant spring landscapes within the report. This work was made possible by a dedicated team who participated in working groups that refined key ecological attributes as well as assessed the threats to these systems. These individuals include Susan Abele and Greg Low with TNC [note: Susan is now with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)]; Don Sada with DRI; Jennifer Newmark [note: Jennifer is now with the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW)] and Janel Johnson with NNHP; Steve Caicco with USFWS; Jon Sjoberg with Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW); Bob Boyd and Sandra Brewer with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM); and Ross Haley with the National Park Service (NPS). 
Staff Members
  • Janel Johnson - Botanist and Wetland Ecologist