April 2003

Download each layer from its description in the Attributes section

Overview

The MassGIS Priority Natural Vegetation Communities datalayer depicts the distribution of the eight natural community systems identified by the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) as most critical to the conservation of the Commonwealth’s biological diversity (Barbour et al., 1998). These eight systems are:
Natural Community System Datalayer(s)
 COASTAL  VCCOAST
 COASTAL PLAIN POND  VCCPPOND
 VERNAL POOL  CVP, PVP
 ACIDIC PEATLAND  VCPEAT
 RIVERINE  VCRIV
 MARITIME SANDPLAIN  VCSANDPL
 PINE BARRENS  VCPINBAR, VCPINBR2
 CALCAREOUS  Currently Unavailable

For descriptions of these community systems, refer to Barbour, Simmons, Swain and Woolsey, "Our Irreplaceable Heritage: Protecting Biodiversity in Massachusetts" (1998). Each "VC" (vegetation community) layer is described below in the Attributes section of this document.

These natural community systems data are stored in the MassGIS STATE library as the seven separate layers listed above (beginning with "VC"), plus one for Upland Forest (VCFOREST). The Vernal Pool priority natural community data is the same as the NHESP Certified Vernal Pools and Potential Vernal Pools data and should be added and used with the "VC" layers. The DEP Eelgrass data from the STATE library should also be added, to complete the Coastal priority natural community system. The DEP Wetlands , and the Open (undeveloped) category of the MassGIS Land Use datalayer should be added to complete the land cover map.

Most of the information is derived from stereo photo-interpretation of springtime 1999 and 2000 1:12,000 scale color infrared aerial photography. The mapping also includes upland forest classification created by MassGIS from Landsat satellite imagery.  The result is a comprehensive regional vegetation cover map that provides plant community information at a variety of scales.

This mapping is intended for planning purposes only, as a guide to potentially valuable natural sites to be protected. All sites should be field checked before any action is taken on them. Aerial photo-interpretation can identify vegetation, but cannot assess the quality of a site for biodiversity, or the actual presence of rare plants and animals.

The mapping is now complete for the Buzzards Bay, South Coastal, Taunton, Ten Mile, Narragansett Bay and Mt Hope Bay watersheds in the southeast and the North Coastal, Parker, Ipswich, Shawsheen, and portions of the Merrimack and Boston Harbor watersheds in the northeast. It is under production for the Suasco, and portions of the Charles, Merrimack and Nashua watersheds.

Production

Natural Community System types were interpreted in stereo from 1:12,000 scale color infrared aerial photography flown in the spring of 1999 and 2000. The delineations were digitized directly into ESRI's ArcView 3.2a software by "heads-up" on-screen digitizing and by use of the Optem Digital Transfer Scope (DTS), which allows digitizing with the computer's mouse while viewing the aerial photo through the stereoscope. For many of the wetland community types, the on-screen digitizing involved reshaping and relabeling existing digital DEP Orthophoto Wetlands polygons to more specifically delineate and describe the community.  The DTS was used to more accurately delineate the boundary of the new polygon. All polygons were digitized to correspond to features on the MassGIS 1:5,000 Black and White and Color ortho imagery data layers, usually at a screen scale of approximately 1:3,000 to 1:5,000.

Field and collateral information were used as much as possible to assist in the interpretation. Important sources of digital information were the wetlands and eelgrass data from the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Wetlands Conservancy Program (WCP) and the Plymouth pitch pine data from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (UMass). Field information from local ecologists and watershed team leaders and community information from the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program were also important in determining southeastern community types and locations.

The southeast upland forest classification was created using a Landsat 5 satellite image acquired on April 7, 1998. All DEP Orthophoto wetlands and all land use types except forest were masked out of the spring satellite image before the image was classified as coniferous or other. The coniferous forest was then removed, and the remaining forest reclassified as deciduous or mixed forest. Classifications were checked against the 1:5,000 scale black and white orthophotos and the color infrared photography.

When completed, all ArcView shapefiles and the forest raster image were converted to ArcInfo coverages.

Attributes

These layers contain polygon features representing different priority natural vegetation communities, described to the level of detail possible with remote sensing and collateral information. Because some of the data came from other digital data sources, and the communities are very different, not all the attribute tables are the same. An attempt was made to standardize the attribute tables as much as possible. For detailed descriptions of the natural community system types, refer to Swain and Kearsley, "Classification of the Natural Communities of Massachusetts" (2000).
 

COASTAL NATURAL COMMUNITY SYSTEMS

These systems extend from the ocean to the inland limits of tidal influence and salt spray. Community types include dunes, beaches, salt marshes, tidal flats, undeveloped barrier beaches, interdunal swales, maritime rock and erosional cliffs, rocky shores, maritime forest and shrubland, coastal forest, brackish marshes and shrublands, and coastal salt ponds. This data was created by starting with the DEP Wetlands , selecting a new set of just coastal types, and then adding, deleting and changing these polygon shapes and labels based on aerial photo interpretation of the 1999/2000 photos and field information. In areas where this wetland layer did not exist, the wetlands were interpreted and digitized from the aerial photos. Brackish marshes and swamps located along a river system were included in the Riverine community system and not here. Users should add subtidal eelgrass beds from the statewide DEP Eelgrass data layer.

The Coastal System datalayer is called VCCOASTAL_POLY in ArcSDE. The polygon attribute table contains the following items:

Item Description
NHCODE
 
Abbreviations for NHESP community types (the most detailed level of description of any polygon; included when it is known). They include:
BTM brackish tidal marsh
BTSH brackish tidal shrubland
BTSW brackish tidal swamp
CF coastal forest
CF-J coastal forest-juniper
CIS coastal interdunal swale
CSP coastal salt pond
CSPM coastal salt pond marsh
DM deep emergent marsh
FTM freshwater tidal marsh
FTSW freshwater tidal swamp
M shallow emergent marsh
MBS maritime beach strand
MCBD maritime cobble dune
MCBE maritime cobble beach
MD maritime dune
MEC maritime erosional cliff
MGSB marine gravel/sand beach
MJW maritime juniper woodland
MOHF maritime oak-holly forest
MPPD maritime pitch pine on dunes
MRC maritime rock cliff
MSH maritime shrubland
ND not defined due to limitations  of photo interpretation and scale
RS rocky shore
SLF sea-level fen
SM salt marsh
SS shrub swamp
X not a part of the Coastal community
COMM_TYPE
 
The DEP Wetlands Conservancy Program (WCP) type from the Orthophoto Wetlands data layer, or the abbreviation for the NHESP types (listed above) if there is no WCP type.  Refer to the DEP WCP for wetland classification codes and descriptions.
COMM_DESC Brief description of the code shown in NHCODE, or the COMM_TYPE if there is no NHCODE type described.
LABEL
 
A combination of the label codes from NHCODE and COMM_TYPE, with preference given to NHCODE.  Intended to give more complete information than either column alone, but also to group certain types such as wetland forest into more manageable units for map layout.  The codes are the same as used in the NHCODE and COMM_TYPE fields, except for WS, which is the three DEP wetland forest types (WS-1, 2 and 3) combined as wooded swamp.
GEN_LABEL Tidal and Non-Tidal, and X for not part of Coastal community, to simplify color types in map layout.
Download this layer: ESRI Shapefile

COASTAL PLAIN POND COMMUNITY SYSTEMS

Coastal Plain Pond Systems consist of certain kettlehole ponds and the pondshores developed around their fluctuating water levels. Most of this data in the southeast came from a shapefile created by the Manomet Center for Conservation Science, which was then revised based on information from the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, The Nature Conservancy, Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts, and the MassGIS 1:5,000 Orthophoto base map.

The Coastal Plain Pond datalayer is named VCCOASTALPLAINPOND_POLY in ArcSDE . The polygon attribute table contains the following items:

Item Description
NHCODE Abbreviation for the NHESP community type (all CPP for Coastal Plain Pond, or X, not part of Coastal Plain Pond community)
COMMENTS The name of the pond, or X for not part of the CPP community.
PALIS_ID A unique identification number assigned to the pond from the Ponds and Lakes Information System. Ponds that do not have an ID number are listed as 0.
TOWN The name of the town the pond is located in, or X for not part of the CPP community.
LABEL CPP for Coastal Plain Pond, or X for not part of the CPP community.
Download this layer: ESRI Shapefile


VERNAL POOL COMMUNITY SYSTEMS

Vernal Pools are seasonally to semi-permanently flooded basin depressions, usually located in upland forests. All data are in the NHESP Certified Vernal Pools and Potential Vernal Pools datalayers.


ACIDIC PEATLAND COMMUNITY SYSTEMS

Acidic Peatland Systems include evergreen forest and shrub bogs, Atlantic White Cedar (AWC) swamps and bogs, and shrub and graminoid fens. This data was created by starting with the DEP Wetlands , creating a new set of just the bog, coniferous and mixed forested wetland types, and then adding, deleting and changing polygon shapes and labels based on aerial photo interpretation of the 1999/2000 photos and field information. In some areas where this wetland layer did not exist, the wetlands were interpreted and digitized from the aerial photos.

The Acidic Peatland datalayer is named VCPEATLAND_POLY in ArcSDE. The polygon attribute table contains the following items:

Item Description
NHCODE
 
Abbreviation for the NHESP community type. They include:
AWC Atlantic white cedar swamp or bog
BG level bog
GRF acidic graminoid fen
SHF acidic shrub fen
STB spruce-tamarack bog
X not part of Acidic Peatland community
COMM_TYPE
 
The DEP WCP types. They include:
BG bog
M shallow marsh, meadow, or fen
SS shrub swamp
WS-2 coniferous wooded swamp
WS-3 mixed deciduous and coniferous wooded swamp
X not part of Acidic Peatland community
COMMENTS
 
Usually the site name and/or town, but may also include minor notes, or the site number (such as motz34) from Motzkin's AWC inventory (Atlantic White Cedar Wetlands of Massachusetts, 1991). Abbreviations used in this field are bk (brook), cb (cranberry bog), lk (lake), pd (pond), rv (river), st (street), and swp (swamp). Also includes X for not part of the Acidic Peatland community.
COMM_DESC Brief description of the code shown in NHCODE, or the COMM_TYPE if there is no NHCODE type described.
LABEL The same label codes as in NHCODE
GEN_LABEL Atlantic White Cedar, Bog and Fen (shrub and graminoid combined) or X for not part of the Acidic Peatland community
Download this layer: ESRI Shapefile
 RIVERINE NATURAL COMMUNITY SYSTEMS

Riverine Systems are complex areas defined by the extent of river flooding.  They include floodplain and alluvial forests, riverside marshes and shrub swamps, and brackish and freshwater wetlands along tidal rivers. Ditched, channelized and dammed areas are excluded. This data was created by starting with the DEP Wetlands , creating a new set without the coastal and bog wetland types, and then adding, deleting and changing these polygon shapes and labels based on aerial photo interpretation of the 1999/2000 photos and field information. In some areas where this wetland layer did not exist, the wetlands were interpreted and digitized from the aerial photos.

The Riverine datalayer is called VCRIVERINE_POLY in ArcSDE. The polygon attribute table contains the following items:

Item Description
NHCODE
 
Abbreviations for NHESP community types (the most detailed level of description of any polygon, included when it is known). Most of the deciduous forest is probably ARMS. The types include:
AAWC alluvial Atlantic white cedar swamp
ARMS alluvial red maple swamp
BTM brackish tidal marsh
BTSH brackish tidal shrubland
BTSW brackish tidal swamp
DM deep emergent marsh
FTM freshwater tidal marsh
FTSH freshwater tidal shrubland
FTSW freshwater tidal swamp
HTFF high-terrace floodplain forest
M shallow emergent marsh
ND not defined due to limitationsof photo interpretation and scale
SRFF small river floodplain forest
SS shrub swamp
X not part of Riverine system
COMM_TYPE The DEP WCP types, or X for not part of the Riverine community
COMMENTS The name of the river or stream if known, and town, or X for not part of the Riverine community..  Also may include comments about the site.  Abbreviations include rv (river), bk (brook), cr (creek), st (stream), isl (island), swp (swamp), and ck (needs field check).  The abbreviation "br TM1" (example) refers to a Brian Reid site from his Taunton River report.
COMM_DESC Brief description of the code shown in NHCODE, or the COMM_TYPE if there is no NHCODE type described.
LABEL A combination of the label codes from NHCODE and COMM_TYPE, with preference given to NHCODE.  Intended to give more complete information than either column alone, but also to group certain types such as wetland forest into more manageable units for map layout.  The codes are the same as used in the NHCODE and COMM_TYPE fields, except for WS, which is the three DEP wetland forest types (WS-1,2 and 3) combined as wooded swamp.
GEN_LABEL Herbaceous, Shrubs, Trees or X for not part of the Riverine community., to simplify color types in map layout.
Download this layer: ESRI Shapefile
 SANDPLAIN NATURAL COMMUNITY SYSTEMS
Sandplain Systems are complex mosaics of native grassland and heathland found on dry sandy soils, usually near the coast.  Most of this data in the southeast is a subset of grassland and heathland types from the UMass Plymouth pitch pine data, with some polygons removed, added or changed based on review of the 1999/2000 aerial photos and field information. In areas outside of the UMass project area, polygons were interpreted and digitized from the aerial photos. Non-sandplain grasslands that might still have habitat value are included as GR, CGR, or G2.

The Sandplain data layer is named VCSANDPLAIN_POLY in ArcSDE. The polygon attribute table contains the following items:

Item Description
NHCODE
 
Abbreviations for NHESP community types. They include:
SGR sandplain grassland
SHE sandplain heathland
GR other grassland
CGR cultural grassland
X not part of the Sandplain/grassland community
GRIF_CODE
 
The codes used in the UMass Plymouth pitch pine data layer, or more general landuse types for new areas. They include:
G1 native grassland
G2 managed or disturbed grassland
G2-CC managed grassland in a clearcut
G2-FP managed grassland in a frostpocket
HE heathland
HE-FP heathland in a frost pocket
PL-G2 managed grassland under a powerline or right of way
PL-HE heathland under a powerline or right of way
AIRPORT airport grasslands
CEMETERY unused grassland in a cemetery
FIELD grassy "natural" field
HAYFIELD occasionally mowed grassland
POWERLINE grassland under powerlines
X not part of Sandplain/grassland community
LABEL The label codes from NHCODE, with a little grouping of types for simplifying map layout. The types are SGR, SHE, GR, CGR, and X for not part of the Sandplain/grassland community.
GEN_LABEL Grassland, Heathland, and X for not part of the Sandplain/grassland community.
Download this layer: ESRI Shapefile
PINE BARRENS NATURAL COMMUNITY SYSTEMS

Pine Barrens Systems are a mosaic of pitch pine and scrub oak, with heath and grassy openings, located on nutrient-poor, acidic, drought-prone soils. Most of this data is in the southeast a subset of the UMass Plymouth pitch pine data layer (1993). Some revisions have been made to the UMass data (false labels corrected, edges tied, some new developed land removed). Due to spatial accuracy issues, the UMass data should be used for regional analysis only, at scales of 1:30,000 and smaller. A new and separate datalayer was created for pitch pine barrens outside the UMass project area. This new data was created from aerial photo interpretation of the 1999/2000 photos and field information.

The UMass pitch pine data used the Massachusetts DEM's Standard Forest Classification System, with additional types created to describe other vegetation types and maintain a crosswalk with the Patterson pitch pine classification system. An explanation of the UMass pitch pine classification system is contained in the .PDF document umasspitchpine.pdf pdf format of    umasspitchpine.pdf  (viewable in the free Adobe Acrobat Reader).

The Pine Barrens system has two layers, named VCPINBARRENS_POLY (new data) and VCPINEBARRENS2_POLY (UMass data) in ArcSDE. 

The polygon attribute table for the new pitch pine data contains the following items:

Item Description
NHCODE
 
Abbreviations for NHESP community types. They include:
PPSO pitch pine-scrub oak
RPPSO ridgetop pitch pine-scrub oak
SO scrub oak shrubland
X not part of Pine Barrens community
TOWN The name of the town the site is located in, or X for not part of the Pine Barrens community
LABEL The same as NHCODE
GEN_LABEL Pitch Pine, Scrub Oak or X for not part of Pine Barrens community.
Download this layer: ESRI Shapefile
The polygon attribute table for the UMass pitch pine data contains the following items: 
Item Description
NHCODE
 
Abbreviations for NHESP community types. They include:
PPSO pitch pine-scrub oak
SO scrub oak shrubland
X not part of Pine Barrens community
GRIF_CODE The codes used in the UMass Plymouth pitch pine data layer, or X for not part of Pine Barrens community
PPID The code number associated with the GRIF_CODE types, or 0 if not part of the Pine Barrens community
LABEL The same as NHCODE
GEN_LABEL Pitch Pine, Scrub Oak or X for not part of Pine Barrens community
Download this layer: ESRI Shapefile
UPLAND FOREST
This theme is a polygon coverage vectorized from classified satellite imagery. It depicts the distribution of several upland forest types derived from Landsat 5 imagery acquired on April 7, 1998. Additional information about the methods used to create these data is available from Philip John at MassGIS at (617) 626-1185.

The data layer is named VCFOREST_POLY in ArcSDE. The polygon attribute table has the following item: 

Item Description
GRID_CODE
 
The forest categories are:
1 coniferous
2 mixed deciduous and coniferous
3 deciduous
4 other small unclassified sites
99 not part of the upland forest community
Download this layer: ESRI Shapefile

Maintenance

MassGIS is maintaining this layer.  Questions concerning the data interpretation should be directed to Janice Stone at 413-545-5533 or Philip John at 617-626-1185.  Development of this information in other regions of the state is continuing.

References Used

Barbour, H., T. Simmons, P. Swain, and H. Woolsey.  1998.  Our Irreplaceable Heritage: Protecting Biodiversity in Massachusetts.  Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and the Massachusetts Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.  Boston, MA.

Motzkin, G.  1990.  Map appendix to Atlantic white cedar wetlands of Massachusetts.  Unpublished report submitted to the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program,  Westborough, MA.

Motzkin, G.  1991.  Atlantic white cedar wetlands of Massachusetts.  Research Bulletin 731.  Massachusetts Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Massachusetts,  Amherst, MA.

Reid, B., Anderson-Hill, M., and J. Schultz.  1998.  Taunton River Corridor Natural Resource Inventory and Conservation Plan.  Unpublished report submitted to the Taunton River Stewardship Program by Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts.  Duxbury, MA.

Reid, B., and M. Anderson-Hill.  1999.  1998 Natural Resource Inventory of the Noquochoke Wetlands.  Unpublished report to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Environmental Law Enforcement, Biodiversity Initiative, Ecological Restoration Program.  Westborough, MA.

Reid, B.  2000.  A Survey of Coastal and Maritime Natural Communities, Oak-Hickory Forests, and Red Maple Swamp Variants in Plymouth and Bristol Counties, Massachusetts.  Unpublished report to the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, MA Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.  Westborough, MA.

Swain, P. C., and J. B. Kearsley.  July 2000.  Classification of the Natural Communities of Massachusetts.  Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, MA Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.  Westborough, MA


Last Updated 7/25/2012