Modeling Ecological Potential


The landscape of the Central Hardwoods Bird Conservation Region (CHBCR) has changed dramatically over the past 200 years, as a result of fire suppression, timber harvest, wetland drainage, land clearing for agriculture, and urbanization. Conserving the bird populations that rely on the CHBCR will require protecting and restoring the habitats that these species depend upon. To guide restoration efforts, conservation planners need to know where different vegetation types were once found and where restoration efforts are ecologically most likely to succeed.
To meet this need, a model of ecological potential for the CHBCR is being created.
This tool will:
• predict the ecological potential for habitats across the landscape,
• show changes from historic conditions, when compared to current land cover maps,
• help land managers decide on the best conservation use of their land,
• and help estimate the capacity of the CHBCR to support different bird populations, when used with habitat suitability models for birds

Site Description

The ecological potential model is being created for the Central Hardwoods Bird Conservation Region. The methods can be used to create models for other areas.


To generate the model, boundaries for Land Type Associations within the CHBCR were delineated on a scale of 1,000 to 10,000 acres, based upon geology, soils, topography and interviews with experts. Hillside-scale landscape positions were modeled for the BCR based upon elevation, slope, aspect and solar exposure.

A matrix was then created using local community ecologists’ expert opinions to assign potential natural vegetation types to each landscape position within each LTA. For example, the potential vegetation type on flat uplands within the Tipton Upland Prairie Plain LTA is predicted to be prairie/grassland, while the potential vegetation type on low wet slopes in the same LTA would be oak/closed woodland.

The resulting map of ecological potential can then be compared to current land cover to determine what changes have taken place in the vegetation type, what natural communities remain, and where restoration efforts might be ecologically appropriate and successful.

By combining the model of ecological potential with known bird associations, historical species distributions and population sizes can be estimated, along with the potential of the BCR to support different bird populations. This information can help guide decisions about targeting habitat management efforts, including the type, size and scale of action.