BioFinder was created to help developers, scientists, planners, educators, and others better understand the richness and distribution of biological diversity throughout Vermont. It can be used both as a clearinghouse for natural heritage data, and as a powerful tool to help in identifying ecologically important locations. To get the most out of BioFinder, it is important to understand the following:
Prioritization vs. Inventory
There are two parts to the BioFinder Map, called "Themes" that can be switched in the Layers menu on the left side of the map:
- Prioritization is what you see when you first load BioFinder. This helps you find and highlight the locations of highest ecological importance. These are the results that we're interpreting
- Inventory helps answer the question: What's here? This shows location of features often used in conservation planning. It represents the "raw data" upon which the state's prioritization efforts were based.
Overall Priorities: Vermont Conservation Design - Landscape Scale
When the BioFinder map is first loaded, the Landscape scale priorities are shown by default (dark green Highest Priority & light green Priority). This takes a holistic approach to addressing ecological function across the Vermont landscape. It identifies the manner in which landscape components are connected and work together to create the most crucial base for ecological interactions across the state. The design is based around the following datasets, all which can be found in the "Component Layers" section:
- Interior Forest Blocks
- Connectivity Blocks
- Riparian Wildlife Connectivity
- Surface Water and Riparian Areas
- Physical Landscape Diversity
- Physical Landscape Blocks
These datasets were chosen because as a group, maintaining or enhancing these features is likely to conserve the majority of Vermont's species and natural communities, even as the climate changes. Put another way, these data outline the areas of land and waters that need to remain healthy and intact if we want to provide plants, animals, and natural resources the best chance of survival over time. On the other hand, a decline in the quality of these lands is likely to correspond to a decline in the state's ecological function as a whole.
To create this map, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department biologists assigned "priority" or "highest priority" status to features within the component datasets, taking into account the regional context in which each component was found. In other words, a smaller interior forest block in the Champlain Valley may qualify as "highest priority," because large forest blocks are less common in the Champlain Valley than in the Green Mountains or Northeast Kingdom. To learn more about how these priority and highest priority areas were assigned for each component, see the component abstracts for each dataset, linked through the BioFinder maps.
Because a fully functional landscape includes all of the components mapped, the map displayed amasses all priority areas on any of the layers. Lands mapped on any of the component maps as "highest priority" are given "highest priority" status on the compilation. Land mapped as "priority" is likewise assigned "priority" status, unless covered by another component's "highest priority" rank.
Community & Species Scale
Turning on this layer will show a finer scale of prioritization with Highest Priority features in blue and Priority shown in purple. This dataset represents lands and waters highly important for maintaining individual species or groups of species that contribute to Vermont's biodiversity. Similar to landscape-scale priorities, the dataset was created by assigning a priority status to features within each components datset. The components include:
- Natural Communities
- Aquatic Habitats
- Vernal Pools
- Terrestrial Wildlife Road Crossings
- Riparian Wildlife Road Crossings
- Rare & Uncommon Species
As you interact with this map, please remember that all data were collected for use at the state or town level. Though you can zoom in to individual parcels, for example, you need to understand the limitations of each of the datasets you are using. Some of these layers contain omissions, and these omissions may be critical when translating data into implementation measures. Wherever possible, the collection of field inventory information will likely enhance a community's understanding of these resources.
Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department's publication, Mapping Vermont’s Natural Heritage: A Mapping and Conservation Guide for Municipal and Regional Planners in Vermont, offers in-depth expalation of each of the datasets on the Inventory side of BioFinder (Part I. Maps and Inventory) and explains how best to use the Prioritization data in a land use planning context (Part II. Prioritization and Implementation)
Scale and Accuracy
BioFinder was created to show ecological function and biodiversity at a statewide scale. Data for each component was mapped to 10m x 10m cells (pixels), covering the entire state — 254,096,429 cells in all. Data for many of the components are highly accurate at this cell level (for example, rare species, natural communities). The accuracy for other components (Interior Forest) can diminish as one zooms in. Because of these accuracy issues at the local scale, BioFinder cannot replace site visits or site-specific data and analyses and should only be used to gain a general understanding of components likely to be at play.
In instances where robust field data were not spatially comprehensive or available to adequately describe a component, models were employed. For example, Physical Landscapes, Surface Water and Riparian Areas, and Riparian Wildlife Connectivity rely on a Land Type Associations model that identifies areas of similar geology, landform, potential vegetation, and other factors. Connectivity and Interior Forest Blocks similarly rely on a suite of models to determine the most likely areas used for wildlife movement. The Wildlife Road Crossings data set relies on a "cost surface" model that predicts ease of movement for far-ranging mammals.