Nebraska Game and Parks Commission


Date of this Version



Steinauer, Gerry and Steve Rolfsmeier. June 30, 2003. Terrestrial Natural Communities of Nebraska (Version III - June 30, 2005). Nebraska Natural Heritage Program. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. 165 pp.


For more than a decade, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and state natural heritage programs, including the Nebraska Natural Heritage Program (NNHP), have used a “coarse filter/fine filter” approach to preserving biological diversity (The Nature Conservancy, 1994). This approach involves identification and protection of natural communities (coarse filter) as well as rare species (fine filter). Identifying and protecting representative examples of natural communities ensures conservation of most species, biotic interactions and ecological processes. Those species that “fall through” the community filters are generally the rare species. Identification and protection of viable occurrences of rare species serves as the fine filter for preserving biological diversity. Using communities as a coarse filter has ensured that conservation efforts are working to protect a more complete spectrum of biological diversity, not just those species whose priority conservation status has been documented. By protecting communities many species not generally target for conservation, such as poorly known groups such as fungi and invertebrates, are protected. Furthermore, communities are an important tool for systematically characterizing the current pattern and condition of ecosystems and landscapes. The Terrestrial Natural Communities of Nebraska was developed primarily as a tool to aid in the conservation of biological diversity by providing a systematic classification of the natural communities found in the state.

This classification defines 70 natural community types, including 40 upland types and 30 wetland types, for Nebraska. By definition, natural communities are made up of species that respond similarly to a complex of climatic, soil, topographic, geologic, hydrologic, historical, and other site attributes. Therefore, the underlying assumption is that vegetation is the best indicator of these environmental features. The communities within this classification were defined primarily by their plant composition (existing and not potential vegetation) and to a lesser extent by soils, hydrology, geology, and other site attributes. This classification includes early successional communities (e.g. willow sandbar) through late successional communities types (e.g. eastern riparian forest) and types that are maintained by natural and possibly anthropogenic disturbance regimes (e.g. sandbar/mudflat). The stream (riverine) and lake (lacustrine) communities of Nebraska are not included in this classification.