Aquatic Core Networks, Unstratified, Northeast U.S

May 19, 2017
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The Aquatic Core Networks, Unstratified is comprised of unstratified versions of Lotic Core Areas and Lentic Core Areas. These datasets are one of two versions of aquatic core areas that are part of a suite of products from Nature’s Network (naturesnetwork.org). Nature’s Network is a collaborative effort to identify shared priorities for conservation in the Northeast, considering the value of fish and wildlife species and the natural areas they inhabit. Although the stratified version "Aquatic Core Networks" is considered by the planning team to be the primary version for users, this unstratified version is also made available for reference and use.These and other datasets that augment or complement the Aquatic Core areas are available in the Nature’s Network gallery: https://nalcc.databasin.org/galleries/8f4dfe780c444634a45ee4acc930a055.
A detailed technical guide to unstratified aquatic core areas is available at: http://jamba.provost.ads.umass.edu/web/lcc/DSL_documentation_aCoresNE.pdf.

Aquatic Core Networks, Unstratified represent intact, well-connected rivers and stream reaches and lakes and ponds in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region that, if protected will continue to support a broad diversity of aquatic species and the ecosystems on which they depend.

Lotic Cores, Unstratified include especially intact, resilient examples of each major stream class across the region, along with habitat for priority aquatic species. The cores offer guidance for conserving aquatic biodiversity and ecological function into the future by providing tools to help identify, prioritize, protect, and effectively manage the full range of aquatic systems in the region along with representative and priority fish and wildlife species.

The major differences between this unstratified version and Lotic Core Areas, Stratified by Watershed are: 1) this version comprises ~33% (by stream length) of all rivers and streams in the Northeast rather than ~30%; 2) areas of highest integrity and resilience for the generation of core areas were identified on the scale of the entire Northeast, without first stratifying ecosystem components by HUC6 watershed; 3) this version is not associated with Aquatic Buffers.

Intended Uses

  • Determine where to start protection and management for a range of intact aquatic systems
  • Identify areas and networks of high ecological value
  • Restore connectivity to otherwise intact areas

Core areas can be viewed as among the best places to start for protection of lands and waters in their natural state. It is recommended that this set of core areas be used in conjunction with the Aquatic Core Networks. Areas of overlap between core areas in this dataset and the cores that are stratified by watershed are of high priority from both the perspective of the full Northeast region and within the corresponding watershed. They may be especially promising locales to investigate for potential conservation action. See the Lotic Core Areas (Stratified by Watershed) for additional descriptions of potential uses.

Description and Derivation

Aquatic core  areas are based on a set of regional GIS analyses designed to assess the physical and biological value of aquatic systems and species across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, and to identify the most important places for them. This version of Lotic Core Areas integrates four components:

  1. The most intact, resilient locations of each of 21 stream habitat classes across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. These classes were mapped by The Nature Conservancy working with the Northeast state fish and wildlife agencies and the North Atlantic LCC (Olivero and Anderson 2008). The integrity of these systems was assessed using the Index of Ecological Integrity developed by the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
  2. Lotic (river and stream) Core Areas representing the highest probability of occurrence for Eastern brook trout (representative species for cold headwater streams) not captured by lotic cores. Brook trout current probability of occurrence is based on a model developed by Ben Letcher and colleagues at the USGS Conte Anadromous Fish Lab. 
  3. Known stream reaches with existing occurrences for Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon and sea-run (salter) brook trout, along with the top 5% of watersheds for alewife, American shad, and blueback herring, based on analyses by Trout Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy.
  4. Priority rearing habitat for Atlantic salmon in the Gulf of Maine watershed, as mapped by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA, where not otherwise already captured.

Lotic Core Areas were initiated from focal areas (“seeds”) with ecological integrity higher than a certain threshold. Seeds reaching a minimum size were expanded upstream and downstream, along the stream centerline, favoring spread with increasing stream size and higher ecological integrity. Seeds did not spread in lakes, and dams are treated as borders to the lotic cores. These initial ecosystem-based cores were supplemented with areas important for one or more of the focal aquatic wildlife species. Finally, these initial cores were supplemented with additional areas to better balance the representation of aquatic ecosystems.

This version of Lotic Core Areas does not include stratification of ecosystem components by watershed. This ensures that the highest quality examples of ecosystems are represented in the core areas. However, this also results in a less well-distributed and well-connected set of core areas compared to the watershed-stratified version.

Lentic Cores, Unstratified include especially intact, resilient examples of each lake and pond class across the region, along with habitat for common loon, a species that represents the needs of other fish and wildlife that depend upon healthy northern lakes. The cores offer guidance for conserving aquatic biodiversity and ecological function into the future by providing tools to help identify, prioritize, protect, and effectively manage the full range of aquatic systems in the region along with representative and priority fish and wildlife species.

The major differences between this unstratified version and Lentic Core Areas, Stratified by Watershed are: 1) this version comprises ~13% (by area) of all lakes and ponds in the Northeast (~19% excluding lakes > 8,094 ha/20,000 acres) rather than ~20% (~30% excluding large lakes); 2) areas of highest integrity and resilience for the generation of core areas were identified on the scale of the entire Northeast, without first stratifying ecosystem components by HUC6 watershed.; 3) this version is not associated with aquatic buffers.

Intended Uses

  • Determine where to start protection and management for a range of intact aquatic systems
  • Identify areas and networks of high ecological value
  • Restore connectivity to otherwise intact areas
Core areas can be viewed as among the best places to start for protection of lands and waters in their natural state. It is recommended that this set of core areas be used in conjunction with the Aquatic Core Networks. Areas of overlap between core areas in this dataset and the cores that are stratified by watershed are of high priority from both the perspective of the full Northeast region and within the corresponding watershed. They may be especially promising locales to investigate for potential conservation action. See the Lotic Core Areas (Stratified by Watershed) for additional descriptions of potential uses.

Description and Derivation


Aquatic core areas are based on a set of regional GIS analyses designed to assess the physical and biological value of  aquatic systems and species across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, and to identify the most important places for them. This version of lentic core areas integrates two components:
  1. The most intact, resilient locations of each of 12 lake/pond habitat classes across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. These classes were mapped by The Nature Conservancy working with the Northeast state fish and wildlife agencies and the North Atlantic LCC (Olivero and Anderson 2008). The integrity of these systems was assessed using the Index of Ecological Integrity developed by the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
  2. Lentic (lake and pond) cores representing the highest landscape capability for breeding common loon (representative species for intact northern lakes) that were not already captured on the basis of ecological integrity. Common loon habitat capability for the region has been mapped by UMass Amherst and is available as a separate product (Landscape Capability for Common Loon).
Lentic core areas were initiated from focal areas (“seeds”) with ecological integrity higher than a certain threshold. Seeds reaching a minimum size were expanded to encompass the entire water body (i.e, pond or lake), providing additional ecological value and resilience to both short- and long-term change, as well as logical units for lentic cores. Large lakes (exceeding 8,094 ha/20,000 acres) were excluded. These initial ecosystem-based cores were supplemented with areas important for the Common Loon.

This version of aquatic core areas does not include stratification of ecosystem components. This ensures that the highest quality examples of ecosystems are represented in the core areas. However, this also results in a less well-distributed and well-connected set of core areas compared to the watershed-stratified version.

Known Issues and Uncertainties

As with any project carried out across such a large area, aquatic core areas are subject to limitations. The results by themselves are not a prescription for on-the-ground action; users are encouraged to verify, with field visits and site-specific knowledge, the value of any areas identified in the project. Known issues and uncertainties include the following:
  • The results do not incorporate important social, economic, or feasibility factors.
  • Users are cautioned against using the data on too small an area (for example, a small parcel of land), as the data may not be sufficiently accurate at that level of resolution.
  • The classification and mapping of aquatic ecological systems is known to be imperfect, which consequently affects the mapped values for ecosystem integrity and species habitat. While the ecosystem mapping is anticipated to correctly reflect broad patterns of ecosystem occurrence, errors in classification and placement do occur, as with any regional GIS data. In addition, errors in mapping and alignment of hydrography, development, roads, traffic rates, and a number of other data layers can affect the model results.
  • It is not possible to map all factors affecting ecological integrity and species habitat across the Northeast, and the omission of such factors can be anticipated to create some limitations in the results. Examples are listed below.
             i) Aquatic core areas do not currently account for flow impairment as this information is only available at the medium resolution (1:100k) hydrography.
             ii) The aquatic core areas do not include information on non-indigenous aquatic species, or instream habitat quality because the available data are too coarse (HUC 8 watersheds) for the region.
             iii) Core areas do not account for instream habitat quality because there are no consistent data across the region; partners can incorporate local or state data if available.
  • By design, the core area approach does not explicitly identify the most important areas for rare aquatic species; however some additional areas are covered with the Habitat Condition for Imperiled Species dataset component and should be used as a complement to the aquatic core networks data.
  • No one segment of a stream or river, such as depicted by a lotic core, can be conceived of as independent of the larger, continuous stream network of which it is a part. Lotic Core Areas define particular areas of high integrity and importance to aquatic species, but ultimately conservation of the full network is critically important as well.
Data Provided By:
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Landscape Ecology Lab
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ScienceBase (USGS) View Record
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University of Massachusetts, Amherst
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
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Northeast
with Science Applications, Northeast

Administration account for the Northeast Conservation Planning Atlas.