Mapping Beyond Ecoregions

Mapping Beyond Ecoregions

EPA Ecoregions are emerging as the standard nomenclature used by ecological professionals and regional native plant nurseries for discussing habitat types and for identifying suitable plant species and genetics.  Mapping beyond Ecoregions requires new field research to yield its benefits.

As useful as Ecoregion Level IV coding is for distinguishing generic landscape features and native plants from region-specific requirements, it rarely provides precise information for a particular location. The amount of field research required to produce the next level of detail is daunting and probably beyond the scope of any government agency.

Fortunately, for high-priority regions, such as the Blue Ridge Mountains, some organizations are investing in the development of finer ecosystem information and producing usable maps.

The image below is the EPA Ecoregion Level IV map for the southern Blue Ridge region, centered on Asheville, NC.  Note the many ecoregions depicted on this map.  Useful for regional planning.  But if someone wants more specific guidance, say in Ecoregion 066d northeast of Asheville, for a landscaping effort associated with a new housing development or a post-fire restoration effort, it won’t yield the soil specifications and plant lists that people crave.

Southern Blue Ridge EPA ecoregions
Southern Blue Ridge EPA Level IV ecoregions

This next image is from a TNC report depicting the next level of detail.  Data and imagery produced by TNC.  A pdf of the report can be accessed here.  The difference is the level of detail between the two maps is immediately apparent.

Ecological Zones in the Southern Blue Ridge, mapping beyond ecoregions
Southern Blue Ridge Ecological zones, mapping beyond ecoregions, produced by TNC

Although the data used to produce this map is not publicly available, it remains useful to demonstrate the range of specific types of ecological systems and grants the possibility of identifying reference sites for a particular project.  Perhaps, one day, this type of data set will be available as a GIS layer for all to use.

For now, the EPA Ecoregion remains the best available construct.  To discover which Ecoregion you live in, or to find the Ecoregion of your project site, use our Ecoregion Lookup Tool.