Nature Lab

By Bonnie Chasteen | February 1, 2020
From Missouri Conservationist: February 2020

Each month, we highlight research MDC uses to improve fish, forest, and wildlife management.

Resource Science

Natural Heritage Program

“To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering,” wrote Aldo Leopold, the father of American conservation, nearly 80 years ago. He emphasized the need to identify, track, and conserve every element of our natural heritage, no matter how rare or obscure.

“This is because we have no idea how valuable declining and uncommon species and habitats may be to us in the future,” said Natural Heritage Coordinator Dorothy Butler.

“For example, our native species could hold medical, economic, or ecosystem values that we have not yet discovered.”

Butler manages Missouri’s Natural Heritage Database, which began in 1981. Since then, the Missouri Natural Heritage Program (MNHP) has continued to be the state’s most comprehensive source for information about species and natural communities of conservation concern.

This database supports conservation planning, research, species recovery, and land management here in the Show-Me State. It also adds value to Nature- Serve, the coordinating body of all Natural Heritage Programs in the United States, which helps identify the ranges and distribution of species of conservation concern across states.

To date, MNHP contains more than 36,000 plant, animal, and natural community records, and more are added every year. Butler has seen the program grow from a small set of information to one that is integral in focusing on-the-ground conservation actions in Missouri.

MDC Habitat Coordinator Nate Muenks said the MNHP’s ever-growing body of information helps MDC develop the State Wildlife Action Plan to focus and prioritize its conservation efforts. “Pinpointing our work on areas with the greatest potential for success gives us — and all Missourians — the biggest bang for the conservation buck.”

Natural Heritage Program at a Glance

1,160 Species of Conservation Concern
  • 742 Plants
  • 236 Invertebrates (94 aquatic +142 terrestrial)
  • 14 Amphibians
  • 21 Reptiles
  • 65 Fish
  • 50 Birds
  • 32 Mammals
120 Natural Communities
  • 35 Aquatic
  • 85 Terrestrial

The program informs the State Wildlife Action Plan.

This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Larry Archer

Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler