Creating principles for the delineation of natural communities in the environment with the use of aerial photography and supplemental data

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Abstract WILLIAMSON, JUSTIN. Master of Environmental Assessment. Creating Principles for the Delineation of Natural Communities in the Environment with the Use of Aerial Photography and Supplemental Data. Natural communities are defined as “a distinct and reoccurring assemblage of populations of plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi naturally associated with each other and their physical environment.” (The Nature Conservancy, 1981). Natural communities are important for humans as well as for the environment. For humans, they provide ideal settings for scientists to study specific ecosystems that may be present. What organisms are found as well as the how each community functions is important information for scientists and ecologists. Land managers also find natural communities important to make land management decisions leading to increased biodiversity conservation. Many endangered plant and animals species can be found in specific community types and can be managed actively by prescribed fire or passively by preservation. In a natural perspective, these communities act as natural systems that provide protection to organisms that may live and thrive here. These communities are defined and divided based on numerous variables such as vegetation, slope, aspect, soils and elevation. This study looks to identify natural communities and their locations throughout the landscape using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and aerial photography coupled with supplemental natural resource data in order to delineate community types accurately. A unique ground-truthing methodology is then used in order to confirm and correct the data. The goals of this study are first to increase the accuracy of mapping natural communities through available data sources, and second to provide a standard for ground-truthing natural communities in the field. To determine if these methods are successful delineation techniques, this project will investigate two specific case studies and apply the methods developed to each.