Natural areas are tracts of land with little or no evidence of past human influence and designated for research, education, and conservation. Many sites were selected to represent high-quality examples of both common and rare plant association groups. However, the extent to which natural areas characterize regional environmental conditions or gradients important for measuring and understanding the effects of climate change has not been examined. We compared the current collection of natural areas in Oregon and Washington to the broader natural ecosystems found in the region using four ecological parameters derived from existing datasets: forest structure, dominant tree species, vegetation formation classes, and elevation. We evaluated these data sets at both the regional and ecosystem scales and looked at the influence of land ownership in representing these parameters. Our results suggest that the Pacific Northwest natural areas network is well representative of all four parameters at the regional level. There were some gaps in representation at the ecoregion scale and across some land ownerships. Results from this study further support using natural areas for monitoring long-term climate change effects in the Pacific Northwest.
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Vol. 39 • No. 4