A major function of the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) is collecting information on the abundance, distribution, and conservation needs of rare species and significant natural communities. This information is collected through field surveys, review of the scientific literature, and research conducted by staff biologists and cooperators around the state.
For example, the NHESP coordinates the yearly census of Piping Plover nests and tern nesting colonies in Massachusetts. This effort is made possible by the cooperation of beach managers, other agencies, conservation organizations, and many dedicated volunteers. The census effort generates the information about population size, productivity, and predation that biologists and conservationists need to protect and manage the birds. For more information on these efforts, visit the Coastal Waterbirds section.
Research supported by Natural Heritage or performed by Natural Heritage staff also includes rare species population studies, taxonomic studies, and management experiments. For example, through Small Research Contracts Natural Heritage has sponsored taxonomic work on several rare plant species, including Nantucket Shadbush, New England Blazing Star, and New England Boneset. As one can tell by their names, these plants are found only in the vicinity of New England. The purpose of taxonomic research is to determine if described plants such as these are, in fact, distinct species or varieties with global ranges limited to the New England area or simply represent geographic variation within more common, wide-ranging species. Natural Heritage can then better assess the global and state rarity of these plants and determine conservation priorities.