South Atlantic Conservation Blueprint 2021: Priorities for shared action

Aug 13, 2021 (Last modified Aug 27, 2021)
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»Download the Blueprint 2021 development process to read the full documentation as a pdf«

The Blueprint is a living spatial plan for sustaining natural and cultural resources in the face of future change. It identifies opportunities for shared conservation action, prioritizing the lands and waters of the South Atlantic based on the current condition of natural and cultural resource indicators, and a connectivity analysis. So far, more than 700 people from over 200 organizations have actively participated in developing the Blueprint. To learn more about the Blueprint, visit the Blueprint page. To learn more about the indicators, visit the indicator page.

Priority Categories

Highest priority for shared action: The most important areas for natural and cultural resources based on indicator condition. This class covers 10% of the South Atlantic geography.

High priority for shared action: Important areas for natural and cultural resources based on indicator condition. This class covers an additional 15% of the South Atlantic geography; together, the highest and high priority categories cover 25%.

Medium priority for shared action: Above-average areas for natural and cultural resources based on indicator condition, capturing potential restoration opportunities. This class covers 20% of the South Atlantic geography; together, the highest, high, and medium priority categories cover 45%.

Priority connections: Connections between priority areas based on a least-cost path analysis. This category covers an additional 5% of the South Atlantic geography; in total, the Blueprint covers 50%.

Overview of Methods

Step 1: The ecosystem integrity of the South Atlantic region is represented by 28 natural and cultural resource indicators. Some indicators represent one ecosystem (i.e. maritime forest extent), while others represent multiple ecosystems (i.e., intact habitat cores).

Step 2: To aid in the modeling process, we remove highly altered areas (i.e., urban areas and reservoirs) that generally would not be prioritized in the Blueprint anyway.

Step 3: The South Atlantic region is divided into 4 subregions. A program called Zonation ranks the pixels in each subregion according to the current condition of the indicators, using a modeling approach that conserves high-value representations of all indicators collectively. Pixels with higher integrity scores become higher priority in the Blueprint.

Step 4: We use a least-cost path connectivity analysis to identify corridors that link hubs across the shortest distance possible, while also routing through as much Blueprint priority as possible. Inland corridors connect large patches of highest priority Blueprint areas and/or protected lands, within broad areas of established conservation interest for connectivity. Marine and estuarine corridors connect large estuaries and/or large patches of highest priority Blueprint areas, within broad marine mammal movement areas.

Step 5: Combing the areas of highest ecosystem integrity with the corridors produces Version 2021 of the Conservation Blueprint.

Detailed methods

Combining Ecosystem Integrity Scores with Corridors

The Blueprint covers 50% of the South Atlantic landscape, divided into priority categories as described in the Priority Categories section above. To combine the ecosystem integrity scores and the connectivity analysis into the Blueprint, we followed the steps described below.

Creating the Inland Blueprint

  • Start with the moisaced, rebalanced ecosystem integrity scores for all subregions. In this layer, each pixel in the inland South Atlantic geography has a continuous value ranging from 0 to 100 according to its rank to its rank by Zonation prioritization, rebalanced by linear rescale.
  • Pixels with values above 89 are in the highest tier of indicator condition. Select all pixels with values >89 and classify them as “highest priority for shared action”.
  • Pixels with values above 74 that aren’t already classified as highest priority are in the second-highest tier of indicator condition. Select all pixels >74 and ≤89 and classify them as “high priority for shared action”.
  • Pixels with values above 54 that aren’t already classified as highest or high priority are in the third-highest tier of indicator condition. Select all pixels >54 and ≤74 and classify them as “medium priority for shared action”. This makes up the first portion of the medium priority class.
  • Add to the medium priority class any inland hubs used in the connectivity analysis that that were not already classified as highest, high, or medium priority in the steps above. This ensures that the large patches of secured lands used as hubs in the connectivity analysis can score no lower than medium priority in the Blueprint. This adds an additional 0.6% of total area to the medium priority class.
  • Use the inland corridors to fill in the priority connections class. Classify as “priority connections” any pixel identified as a corridor in the inland corridor analysis that is not already assigned to the highest, high or medium priority categories in the steps above. This contributes an additional 5% to the total Blueprint area, ensuring the final Blueprint ultimately covers 50% of the South Atlantic landscape.

Creating the Marine & Estuarine Blueprint

  • Start with the moisaced, rebalanced ecosystem integrity scores for all subregions. In this layer, each pixel in the marine South Atlantic geography has a continuous value ranging from 0 to 100 according to its rank in the Zonation output, rebalanced by linear rescale.
  • Pixels with values above 89 are in the highest tier of indicator condition. Select all pixels with values >89 and classify them as “highest priority for shared action”.
  • Pixels with values above 74 that aren’t already classified as highest priority are in the second-highest tier of indicator condition. Select all pixels >74 and ≤89 and classify them as “high priority for shared action”.
  • Pixels with values above 55 that aren’t already classified as highest or high priority are in the third-highest tier of indicator condition. Select all pixels >55 and ≤74 and classify them as “medium priority for shared action”.
  • Use the marine/estuarine corridors to fill in the priority connections class. Classify as “priority connections” any pixel identified as a corridor in the marine corridor analysis that was not already assigned to the highest, high or medium priority categories in the steps above. This step ensures that the final Blueprint ultimately covers 50% of the South Atlantic landscape.

Combining the Inland and Marine Components into Blueprint 2021

  • The final step is to combine the inland and marine results into a single raster representing final South Atlantic Blueprint 2021. Do this using the ArcGIS-Cell Statistics Maximum function.

Known Issues

Terrestrial

  • Some Piedmont prairie areas are underprioritized. In some cases, we were unable to get spatial data in time to add known sites to the Piedmont prairie indicator. For some locations with particularly sensitive rare species locations, we were not able to share those data publicly. Future updates to the Piedmont prairie and fire frequency indicators will likely fix this issue in the future.
  • Some managed grasslands in the Coastal Plain are underprioritized (e.g., Voice of America Gameland and Site B in Beaufort Co, NC.)
  • Some small or newer quarries are overprioritized (e.g., American Stone Quarry near Chapel Hill, NC). While most quarries are classified correctly as developed, smaller or newer ones don’t have large enough areas of barren in the 2011 National Landcover Database to be filtered out in the terrestrial resilient sites indicator. If not identified as non-natural, quarries tend to score very highly on landscape diversity given all the elevation change that happens within them. This issue will likely be fixed in a future update to the resilient sites indicator.
  • Important Carolina Bays are often included in large patches of medium priority, but the bays and nearby areas should be higher priority. Different methods for resolving this issue are under investigation.
  • Some patches of longleaf pine with good local conditions are underprioritized (e.g., parts of Econfina Water Management Area in FL, parts of Tate’s Hell State Forest in FL, parts of Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge and Sandhills State Forest in NC). Ongoing updates to the fire frequency indicator could continue to improve this issue in future updates.
  • Some low-urban historic areas are underprioritized because they are not yet part of the National Register of Historic Places (e.g., Lost Island Farm on Roanoke Island, the likely landing site for the Lost Colony at the mouth of the Chowan River, Native American sites on the Dan River near the NC/VA border), because their location isn’t publicly shared (e.g., sensitive archeological sites), or because the GIS depiction of their spatial boundaries have significant errors (e.g., sites in GA and AL).
  • The salt marshes on the west side of Swanquarter National Wildlife Refuge seem to be underprioritized.
  • Some upland areas in large habitat patches that are fragmented by dirt roads are underprioritized. This issue impacts parts of some national forests and military bases. Improvements to the intact habitat cores indicators will likely fix this in the future.
  • A section of the Waccamaw River floodplain between Edward E Burroughs Hwy and SC-31 is underprioritized. Potential fixes for this are under investigation.
  • Some important habitat in the open water part of Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary is underprioritized. Future improvements in estuarine indicators and methods should improve this in the future.
  • Some important areas of tidal freshwater marsh are underprioritized (e.g., Mackay National Wildlife Refuge). Indicators that better represent waterfowl habitat needs could improve this in the future.
  • The Trail Ridge area east of Okefenokee Swamp in GA, which has significant longleaf restoration potential and is an important movement corridor for longleaf species, is underprioritized. Improvements in longleaf indicators should improve this in the future.
  • Some inland working lands areas that will be important for sea-level rise adaptation are underprioritized in the Big Bend of Florida.
  • Some recently developed areas are overprioritized (e.g., Chatham Park Development in NC, area around Lake Leowee in SC). Updated landcover and indicator updates based on newer landcover should fix this issue.
  • The beach area of Waites Island in SC, important for plover and sea turtles, is underprioritized.

Freshwater

  • Some aquatic areas, particularly smaller rivers and streams, are over-prioritized. The imperiled aquatic species indicator is at a subwatershed (HUC12) scale while the species hotspots it seeks to depict are often only a part of that subwatershed.
  • Some river sections particularly important for aquatic diversity are underprioritized. They include: some sections of Shoe Heel Creek in NC that are important for broadtail madtoms and other endemics, the VA section of the Nottoway River, the lower section of the Little River in NC, and some parts of the lower Neuse River in NC. Ongoing improvements in the imperiled aquatic species indicator should improve these issues.
  • Some aquatic areas important for Gulf migratory fish are being underprioritized in areas far upstream due to issues in the migratory fish connectivity indicator.

Marine

  • Mouths of many priority rivers are underprioritized where they transition into the estuarine ecosystem. Improved estuarine indicators should improve this issue in the future.
  • Nearshore and estuarine open water areas of the Gulf of Mexico are based only on the coastal condition index and do not include a number of other important natural and cultural components of that ecosystem. Additional indicators for this area are under development.
  • Some marine areas in the far eastern part of the Blueprint, particularly beyond the Blake Plateau, may be underprioritized due a lack of survey data for marine birds and mammals in that region.
  • Some important black-capped petrel feeding areas far offshore are underprioritized. Future improvements in the marine birds indicator should fix this.
  • When creating the marine hubs, we identified the top 10% of the marine Zonation runs using values >90. Later, when creating the final Blueprint, we realized that using ≥90 did a better job of getting at the top 10%. As a result, the marine hubs cover slightly less area than the marine highest priority class. If we had used ≥90 to calculate marine hubs, we would have also had slightly different marine corridors and marine priority connections.

Literature Cited

Anderson, M.G., A. Barnett, M. Clark, C. Ferree, A. Olivero Sheldon, J. Prince. 2016. Resilient Sites for Terrestrial Conservation in Eastern North America. The Nature Conservancy, Eastern Conservation Science.

Hoctor, T. S., M. H. Carr, P. D. Zwick. 2000. Identifying a linked reserve system using a regional landscape approach: the Florida ecological network. Conservation Biology 14:984-1000.

McRae, B. and Kavanagh, D. Linkage Mapper User Guide: Version 1.0. 2014. http://www.circuitscape.org/linkagemapper.

Moilanen, A., and B. A. Wintle. 2006. Uncertainty analysis favours selection of spatially aggregated reserve networks. Biological Conservation 129:427-434.

Moilanen, A., L. Meller, J. Leppänen, F.M. Pouzols, H. Kujala, A. Arponen. 2014. Zonation Spatial Conservation Planning Framework and Software V4.0, User Manual. https://github.com/cbig/zonation-core/releases/download/4.0.0/zonation_manual_v4_0.pdf.

White, T.H., JR., J.L. Bowman, B.D. Leopold, H.A. Jacobson, W.P. Smith, and F.J. Vilella. 2000. Influence of Mississippi alluvial valley rivers on black bear movements and dispersal: Implications for Louisiana black bear recovery. Biological Conservation 95:323–331.

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2021-08-15 04:00:00 (Release Date), 2020-09-01 04:00:00 (Start Date), 2022-09-01 04:00:00 (End Date)
Citation:
Rua Mordecai(Principal Investigator), 2021-08-15(Release), South Atlantic Conservation Blueprint 2021: Priorities for shared action, http://www.southatlanticlcc.org/blueprint/
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Science Applications Region 4
Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS)
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otherRestrictions - limitation not listed; This work is licensed under a [Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License](http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). The blueprint data and maps provided are only intended for use as a reference tool for landscape-level conservation planning efforts.
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South Atlantic Blueprint

The South Atlantic Conservation Blueprint is a living spatial plan to conserve natural and cultural resources for current and future generations in the face of future change. It spans parts of six states, from Virginia to Florida, including U.S. waters to 200 miles offshore. The Blueprint...