Terrestrial Vegetation Monitoring

Habenaria repens water spider orchid
Habenaria repens, or the water spider orchid, can be seen in wetland habitats in the Gulf Coast region

NPS/Jane Carlson

Gulf Coast Network parks contain unique and varied plant communities, from the hyper-diverse groundcover layer of pine savannahs to the species-rich forests of Mississippi and northern Florida. Plant communities are the foundation for most terrestrial ecosystems, and changes in vegetation can serve as important indicators of widespread transformation. Therefore, monitoring this plant diversity is a high priority for the network, and provides useful information for natural resource managers.

Many important questions about the status of plant communities in parks can be answered by monitoring plants in 20 x 20 meter, long-term plots. In these plots, all plant species are identified, and in nested subplots, the relative frequency and percent coverage of each species are recorded. Data are also collected on tree growth, recruitment and mortality.

The complete background, rationale and procedures for terrestrial vegetation monitoring by the network are described in a protocol narrative and 11 standard operating procedure (SOP) documents. The protocol is titled "Monitoring Terrestrial Vegetation in Gulf Coast Network Parks." It was published in the NPS Natural Resource Report Series in late 2018, and it is available to the public through IRMA, following the links further below.

A summary of the vital sign and monitoring approach can also be found in the 2-page brief: Terrestrial Vegetation Monitoring Program Summary.

This long-term monitoring project has the potential to detect a wide range of plant species across all parks. Even so, only fraction of each park's area is actually sampled, as selected through a random draw of 10-56 plot locations per park. To learn about the full list of plant species for each Gulf Coast Network park, see our park-specific inventory reports and species lists for terrestrial vegetation.

Broad-scale vegetation community mapping inventories have also be performed in most Gulf Coast Network parks, and a list of those reports and products is included further below.

Bald cypress trees in a wetland
Bald cypress ecosystem.

NPS photo

Terrestrial Vegetation Monitoring Project Documents and Data

Source: Data Store Saved Search 3496. To search for additional information, visit the Data Store.

Vegetation Community Mapping Inventories, following National Vegetation Classification Standards

Source: Data Store Saved Search 571. To search for additional information, visit the Data Store.

a star-shaped view of the pale pitcher plant flower
view from above of a pale pitcher plant (Sarracinea alta) flower at Big Thicket  National Preserve.

Photo by Chris Adams

Wetland on the interior of Horn Island, Mississippi
A view into an interior wetlands of Horn Island, MS, part of Gulf Islands National Seashore

Jane Carlson/NPS

view of a salt prairie grassland transitioning into Tamaulipan thornscrub
Spartina spartinae salt prairie with Spanish dagger yucca (Yucca treculeana) and honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), and more thornscrub in the background. This photo is from Palo Alto Battlefield NHP, which is one of the two southernmost National Park units in the continental USA, along with Everglades National Park, FL.

Jane Carlson/NPS

Last updated: October 3, 2018