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Ecological site descriptions

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Ecological sites are the basic component of a land-type classification system that describes ecological potential and ecosystem dynamics of land areas. All land/land use types are identified within the ecological site system, including rangeland, pasture, and forest land.

An ecological site is defined as a distinctive kind of land with specific soil and physical characteristics that differ from other kinds of land in its ability to produce a distinctive kind and amount of vegetation and its ability to respond similarly to management actions and natural disturbances. Lands are classified considering discrete physical and biotic factors. Physical factors include soils, climate, hydrology, geology, and physiographic features. Biotic factors include plant species occurrence, plant community compositions, annual biomass production, wildlife-vegetation interactions, and other factors. Ecological dynamics, primarily disturbance regimes such as grazing, fire, drought, management actions and all resulting interactions, are also a primary factor in the development of ecological sites.

Information and data pertaining to a particular ecological site are organized into a reference document known as an Ecological Site Description (ESD). ESDs function as a primary repository of ecological knowledge regarding an ecological site.


  • For questions about the Ecological Site Descriptions catalog, or to contribute content, contact:

    Curtis Talbot
    Rangeland Management Specialist
    National Ecological Site Team
    Jornada Experimental Range
    Las Cruces, New Mexico
    Phone: 575-646-3584

Next steps

  1. 1

    Select a Major Land Resource Area

    To learn more about a particular ecological site, first select a Major Land Resource Area using the list, map, photos, briefcase, or quick search option located on this page.
  2. 2

    Select an ecological site

    Next, select an ecological site associated with the Major Land Resource Area of interest. Keys, descriptions, and images are available to help determine an appropriate ecological site.
  3. 3

    Explore the ecological site description

    Finally, learn more about the selected ecological site and its characteristic dynamics by browsing the ecological site description and exploring alternative state and transition model formats.