Nature Lab

By Dianne Van Dien | October 1, 2023
From Missouri Conservationist: October 2023

Large-Scale Habitat Management

Landscape Health Index

Over the past several years, MDC and partners have been working hard to improve key habitat areas called priority geographies. By including both public and private land, these areas can provide large tracts of continuous habitat, which plant and animal populations need to thrive. But how do biologists know if their efforts have been successful, especially at this large scale?

A measuring system that can integrate a wide variety of factors is needed — hence the creation of the landscape health index (LHI).

“It’s a data-driven measure of how ecosystems, habitats, and species respond to conservation actions,” says Tom Bonnot, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) biologist and adjunct professor at the University of Missouri. Bonnot and MDC collaborated to develop the LHI.

The LHI uses field data on species abundance, habitat and water quality, ecosystem processes, and public support and participation. The data are first standardized and then combined to create an overall landscape health score.

“Conservation managers are really good at assessing prescribed burn units and forest stands,” says MDC Habitat Management Coordinator Michael Bill. “But managing a variety of connected habitats at a 100,000-acre scale can be very challenging. The LHI helps us focus at a much larger scale to determine what we need to do to really move the needle.”

A pilot run of the LHI on two priority geographies shows it is almost ready to go. Bonnot says the USFWS co-funded the project because “it saw the need for this kind of landscape-level evaluation. Missouri was one of few states set up to do something like this. This is a pioneering effort by MDC that could be rolled out to other states.”

Landscape Health Index at a Glance

The LHI uses data from three main components to create an overall score on a scale of 0 to 1. The score helps managers assess conservation practices on priority geographies.

Partners: MDC, USFWS, University of Missouri

Biotic Integrity: Do species have viable populations?
  • Abundance of key wildlife and plant species
Landscape Integrity: Are populations and ecosystem functions supported?
  • Connectivity
  • Habitat condition
  • Ecosystem function
Social Condition: What is the community’s view on conservation?
  • Public opinion
  • Landowner support

Sample LHI Score: 0.43

Learn more at

This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Associate Editor - Larry Archer
Photography Editor - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Staff Writer – Dianne Van Dien
Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Marci Porter
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Circulation – Marcia Hale