State of Vermont BioFinder
Agency of Natural Resources
vermont.gov
official state website
Biofinder - Vermont Agency of Natural Resources

Interpreting Results

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:

BioFinder Themes: Inventory and Prioritization

BioFinder categorizes all information into two "themes:" Inventory and Prioritization. Each theme includes a separate list of map information that can be displayed or turned off as desired. The default theme, entitled Prioritization, appears when you first open the map tool, but an Inventory theme is also available. Change the theme through the pulldown menu at the top, left corner of the screen, under the word "Layers."

Inventory Theme

This theme answers the question, "What's here?"

The "Inventory" theme presents basic information about the location of features often used in conservation planning. "Inventory" information has not been interpreted in any way. It represents the raw data upon which the Prioritization Theme is based. This allows a user to explore the breadth of ecological components at play on a local or regional landscape.

If you explore the maps in the order presented, you will find yourself beginning with broad, landscape patterns in Maps 1 and 2, then zooming in to see increasing detail. For more information about any of the maps, please see Mapping Vermont's Natural Heritage (available Spring 2017), a guide to using maps for Land Use Planning. This guide provides detailed information about how each map and map layer in the Inventory theme can be appropriately interpreted for use at a municipal level.

The maps include:

1. Conservation Base Map

Conservation Base Map

This map provides a snapshot of the landscape, frozen in time. It's not intended to be studied in detail; instead, its goal is to provide background information. The most prominent dataset outlines conserved land—land on which development has been permanently restricted through either a conservation easement or purchase by a conservation entity. Also depicted are waterways, roads, and town boundaries. In some communities, parcel boundaries are available.

These layers can be left on as you view other Inventory maps, thereby allowing you to see roads and political boundaries along with any other dataset, or to determine which inventory features are located on conserved land.

2. Land Cover

Land Cover

This map is useful at a broad scale for seeing patterns of natural land cover and land use. At a statewide scale, it is beneficial for picking out large urban areas, agricultural areas, wetland complexes, and forested areas. More locally, these data can be used to locate forested blocks, predict where wildlife with wide home ranges may be able to travel through the landscape, and see where patterns of development may hinder wildlife movement. They can also be used to distinguish hardwood forests from softwood and mixed forests, which can be helpful in predicting locations of natural communities and wildlife species.

Like Map 1, land cover information isn't intended to capture individual processes or species; it tells, very simply, what covers the ground at the present time.

3. Forest Pattern

Forest Pattern

When considering wildlife on the local landscape, broad-scale vegetation patterns can be quite revealing. The degree to which forests are connected or separated has implications both for where wildlife will be and which wildlife are present. This concept of connectivity is particularly important in the face of climate change; maintaining connected pathways of natural vegetation across the landscape is considered a critical strategy for adapting to a changing climate, allowing animals and plants to disperse to locations that provide favorable conditions.

This map shows where blocks of undeveloped land are located, organized by size. It shows where the vegetated banks of streams, rivers, and lakes form continuous pathways in which wildlife can move. Finally, it shows grasslands and shrublands. These may be contained within larger habitat blocks, or they may appear isolated. Either way, there is an important assemblage of species that relies on these open fields or young stands for their survival.

4. Physical Features

Physical Features

Physical landscapes are the parts of the landscape that resist change. They are the hills and valleys, the underlying bedrock, and the deposits left behind by glaciers or ancient lakes. They remain largely static when natural or human-induced changes in land cover and wildlife occur, as plants and animals expand or contract their ranges, and even as the climate changes.

Because of the strong influence of the physical landscape on which plants, animals, and natural communities appear and thrive, understanding the physical landscape can help us predict habitat conditions and species presence. Physically diverse landscapes support diverse natural communities and species, and so one way to ensure that biological diversity persists on our landscape is to conserve a variety of physical landscapes.

5. Water

Water

Water is an important resource for both wildlife and human communities. While not particularly scarce in the Northeast, water-based ecosystems can be both highly valued and highly vulnerable. In addition to the surface water information included on other maps, this map includes wetlands, vernal pools, riparian areas, representative lakes, and exemplary surface waters. Additionally, you can see the locations of bridges, culverts, and other stream crossing areas. This information has ecological implications but can also be helpful in determining safe and effective locations for human activities.

With the exception of confirmed vernal pools, the information on this map is not intended to be accurate at a fine scale. However, it gives an excellent overall picture of where water appears on the landscape.

6. Species & Natural Communities

species and natural communities

This map includes many important datasets that represent the habitats and locations of individual species or natural communities (groups of species that tend to co-occur and interact). This includes both individual occurrences, such as with rare species or significant natural communities, and also more general habitat features such as wildlife crossings—the locations where bear, bobcat, and other wide-ranging species are most likely to cross roads as they travel to meet daily or seasonal dietary needs, disperse to find mates, or fulfill other requirements.

As you look at this map, you can imagine zooming in from the other Inventory maps to examine details of the landscape. With the exception of Habitat Blocks, all layers can be analyzed down to the level of an individual parcel. While the boundaries of the Habitat Blocks layer are not accurate at this scale, these data provide an element of statewide perspective.

Please keep in mind that while appropriate at a local scale, these datasets aren't comprehensive. For example, a mark depicting a rare species is spatially accurate, but the absence of a rare species marker is not a definite sign that there are no rare species present, because the entire state has never been inventoried for all rare species. Local inventory information could greatly enhance a community's knowledge of local resources.

Prioritization Theme

This theme helps you find and highlight the locations of highest ecological importance.

The "Prioritization" theme identifies ecological priorities based on their contribution to regional ecological function—the ability of habitats, plants and animals to interact as needed in order to thrive, reproduce, migrate, and move, even as the climate changes. This theme considers important components at two scales—the Landscape scale (large blocks of forest, water networks, etc.) and the "Species and Community" scale (individual wetlands, wildlife road crossings, vernal pools, etc.).

Landscape scale data are also referred to as Vermont Conservation Design. All the components in this theme are significant to the State's biological diversity and represent the most important subset of the ecological elements included in "Inventory.

Vermont Conservation Design—Landscape Scale

Vermont Conservation Design is a carefully designed map that takes a holistic approach to addressing ecological function across the Vermont landscape. Instead of identifying and mapping components individually, Vermont Conservation Design 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
Vermont Conservation Design

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 maps outline the areas of land 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 the five 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.

Species and Community Scale

This dataset represents lands and waters highly important for maintaining individual species or groups of species that contribute to Vermont's biodiversity. Species and Community ScaleSimilar to landscape-scale priorities, the dataset was created by assigning a priority status to numerous components, then amassing these components so that a location appearing as "highest priority" on any component appears as "highest priority" on the map. The components include:

Highest Priority:

  • Highest Priority Wildlife Crossings
  • Representative Lakes
  • Exemplary Surface Waters
  • Vernal Pools
  • Wetlands
  • Rare Species
  • Rare Natural Communities

Priority:

  • Priority Wildlife Crossings
  • Uncommon Species
  • Uncommon Natural Communities
  • Common (Representative) Natural Communities
  • Grasslands and Shrublands
  • Mast Stands

As of 2016, the data that constitute priority rankings are undergoing rigorous scientific study. Currently, entire components are ranked as either "priority" or "highest priority," as listed above. For example, rare natural communities are all given "highest priority" status, while uncommon natural communities are labeled "priority." As state biologists learn more about the relative importance of individual occurrences within each natural community, however, the data displayed on BioFinder maps will change to reflect the most up-to-date understanding. For example, some occurrences of a single rare natural community are more important to local and state ecological function than others, and once it is known which these are, the status of some individual rare natural communities may change to "priority."

As you interact with this map, please remember that all data were collected for use at the state level. 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.

Component Layers

While the Vermont Conservation Design and Species and Community Scale maps compile and prioritize numerous datasets, this section allows you to see each component individually. These components have been divided into two groups, to mirror the prioritized datasets above. Species and Community Scale Components were those prioritized to create the Species and Community Scale layer, and Vermont Conservation Design—Landscape Scale Components were compiled in the creation of the prioritized layer of the same name.

Components Layers

By exploring the component layers, you can discover why different locations received the priority ranking they did and get a better understanding of the suite of important ecological activities at play across the landscape.

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 is highly accurate at this cell level (for example, rare species, natural communities). The accuracy for other components (e.g. the network of connected lands) 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. To understand the assumptions, data, and results for each of these models and how they work together with the other data sets, see BioFinder Development Report for details about each of these components and models.