Good conservation depends on good information.
- Where does that species occur?
- How rare is it?
- Is it protected?
- How should it be managed?
The answers to these questions can be found using the Natural Heritage Methodology. This methodology is a set of procedures for managing information on biodiversity used by members of the Natural Heritage Network. At the heart of this methodology is the Biotics Biodiversity Data Model. Biotics is a data model used to catalogue facts about plants, animals, and ecological communities--the elements of biodiversity; the precise locations or occurrences of those elements that are rare or endangered; and the protection status or land ownership of those locations.
Some Heritage Programs use the Bioitcs databasing software developed by NatureServe (formerly ABI), while others still use the older Biological and Conservation Data System (BCD) developed by The Nature Conservancy. Natural Heritage New Mexico implements the Heritage Methodology and the Biotics data model using its own customized software called NM Biotics.
Biotics, in its former incarnation as the Nature Conservancy product called the BCD, received the Computerworld Smithsonian Award in June of 1994 for its success using information technology in conservation and environmental planning. The award singles out for recognition the "[software] applications that, in the views of industry leaders, will have the most significant, positive impact on society."
NM Biotics has applications in biodiversity inventory, land protection, and stewardship management. It is used to catalogue biologically significant species and ecological communities (e.g. plant communities); document the status, boundary, and ownership information of a particular site of conservation interest; and record land management strategies and actions.
NM Biotics can, among other things:
- Generate lists of rare species or plant communities within a specific area.
- Generate a list of managed areas and conservation sites in New Mexico (e.g. national forests and Department of Defense lands).
- Assist users in designing conservation areas based on the location of the rarest and least protected species.
- Track land ownership patterns.
- Help monitor critical species at sites under management protection.
- Generate a list of the most biologically significant sites in New Mexico.
The Biotics data model provides a common vocabulary for its users and is built on a continual exchange of information among entities. It uses a standard methodology to document information, so that a person operating the at the Alabama Natural Heritage Program enters and tracks data in the same way and in the same terms as someone from a federal agency or a Latin American Conservation Data Center. The Biotics data model unites the work of people across the Western Hemisphere and organizes their combined knowledge in a meaningful, coherent format.
One of the principal assets of NM Biotics is its ability to produce customized reports. By defining precise criteria for a report, NM Biotics can easily generate specific information based on the particular needs of the user. NM Biotics can also be used in conjunction with geographic information systems (GIS) to produce computerized maps depicting, for example, the location and range of rare species, vegetation patterns, watershed structure and extent, and land ownership boundaries. NM Biotics also provides indices to existing maps, manual files, and other computer files.
The Biotics data model is continually improved and updated, incorporating the needs and suggestions of users around the world. The current version of the model is based on 20 years of experience and has been carefully adjusted to respond to the evolving needs of conservation. These continual advancements ensure that the information is reliable and that it promotes good conservation.