USGS Mission Area: Ecosystems

Bald cypress trees
Image courtesy USGS

The USGS conducts research and monitoring to develop and convey a fundamental understanding of ecosystem function and distributions, physical and biological components and trophic dynamics for freshwater, terrestrial, and marine ecosystems and the human and fish and wildlife communities they support. 

Visit the Ecosystems Mission Area page for information on each of the USGS Programs addressing different aspects of ecosystem science.

Gulf of Mexico Biodiversity

Image of pink octocoral (Muricea pendula), courtesy of National Undersea Research Center at UNC-Wilminton

The Gulf of Mexico Biodiversity interactive mapping application explores the incredibly diverse habitat in the Gulf, displaying distribution information on benthos, plankton and other marine life groups as well as provide background data on parameters such as dissolved oxygen, temperature, and others. The Gulf of Mexico Biodiversity portal explores some of the diverse phyla represented in the mapping application and has discussion on species habitat, widespread range, and life history characteristics.

Ecoregions Portal & Mapping Application

Ecoregions are a type of spatial classification tool used by scientists, resource managers, and conservation organizations to regionalize biogeographic areas. An ecoregion may be comprised of more than one of the diverse ecosystems found in the Southwest or Central Southwest Gulf Coast.

The Ecoregions portal and mapping application provides access to information on threatened and endangered species, invasive species, political boundaries, and baseline environmental data found within SWIN and CSWGCIN.

Ecosystems of CSWGCIN

The Central Southwest & Gulf Coast Region has incredibly diverse habitats, climate and geography, making up a wide range of Ecosystems that occur within the region. Choose from Gulf of Mexico, Bays and Estuaries, River Systems, Wetlands, Central Plains, Arid Lands or Urban Areas to start exploring and learning about the different areas of the CSWGCIN Region.

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Anulocaulis leiosolenus var lasianthus
Southwestern Ringstem (Anulocaulis leiosolenus var. lasianthus) [Photo:Big Bend Sensitive Plant Project]
Arid Lands - The desert regions in CSWGCIN can produce some of the most vivid contrasts in nature. Desert climates lead to wildlife and plants adapted to the harsh reality of limited resources. Plants in Big Bend lend color in vibrant flashes to the desert tones of the Park.
Galveston Bay
Galveston Bay Satellite Image [Photo:NASA
Johnson Space Center]
Bays and Estuaries - The bays and estuaries that make up the nearshore environs of the Gulf of Mexico are teeming with life and biodiversity. Comprised of tidal, subtidal, and freshwater wetland habitats, the nearshore environment supports diverse and dynamic communities of organisms in a temperate to tropical climate.
Lupinus texensis
Texas Bluebonnet ( Lupinus texensis ) [Photo:Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center]
Central Plains - The Central Plains represent a slightly more temperate climate, and delineate the southernmost reaches of the Great Plains grasslands, representing an important area of agricultural production. Ecosystem studies by CSWGCIN look at both threatened and endangered species as well as the invasive species that are themselves threatening the biodiversity of the area.
sea urchin
Long-spined urchin
(Diadema antillarum)
[Photo:Emma Hickerson, Flower Garden Banks, NOAA]
Gulf of Mexico - The Gulf of Mexico is an incredibly diverse ecosystem. The Gulf of Mexico is the ninth largest body of water in the world and its fisheries (shrimp, oysters and finfish) are very productive. Gulf habitats include coastal wetlands, mangrove forests, submerged aquatic vegetation, upland, and marine/offshore areas.
False Turkey Tail
False Turkey Tail
Piney Woods - The Piney Woods have densely jungled riparian areas and sandy soils that are unfit for most agriculture. There are thousands of acres of loblolly and shortleaf pine as well as some hardwoods that boast a rich diversity of wildlife. Birds such as the bald eagle or rare species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker can be seen here.

Rio Grande
Rio Grande
[Photo:Texas Commission on Environmental Quality]

River Systems - The Rio Grande flows 1,760 miles from its sources in the southern Rocky Mountains of southwestern Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico and marking the entire border between Texas and Mexico. It is the fifth longest river of North America and the 20th longest in the world. The principal tributaries of the Rio Grande are the Pecos, Devils, Chama, and Puerco rivers in the United States and the Conchos, Salado, and San Juan in Mexico.

Houston Skyline
Houston Skyline
[Photo:Texas Department of Transportation]

Urban Areas - Areas with large population centers have impacts on air and water quality, species abundance, spread of invasive species and other anthropogenic effects. In the CSWGCIN area, there are several major Urban Areas, such as Houston, San Antonio and Dallas Ft. Worth in Texas, New Orleans and Baton Rouge in Louisiana, Oklahoma City and Tulsa in Oklahoma and Little Rock in Arkansas.
Galveston Bay Marsh
Galveston Bay marsh and open bay [Photo: Galveston Bay Estuary Program]
Wetlands - Coastal wetlands, swamps, salt marshes, bogs; the CSWGCIN region has a large number of wetland acres. Wetlands are highly fragile ecosystems, that provide services of great value to society. They control floods, protect coastal zones, and host a great diversity of species.

Roseate Spoonbill Spotlight

Roseate Spoonbill, Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife
Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife

Roseate Spoonbill
Ajaia ajaja

Description: Roseate Spoonbills are found mostly in Florida and coastal Texas. They have a wingspan of 50 - 53 inches, a length of 30 - 34 inches and weigh about 3.3 pounds. Roseate Spoonbills are a brilliant pink bird with blood-red "drip" on the shoulders. The Roseate Spoonbill has a white neck and back, with an orange tail and eyes that are ruby red or scarlet; the naked head is pale green to golden buff at pairing. They have a straight bill with broad spatulate tip.

Habitat: The Roseate Spoonbill is common in marshes, tidal ponds, sloughs and mangrove swamps along the Gulf Coast. The Roseate Spoonbill may feed in shallow brackish or salt water and occasionally fresh water by swinging their unusual bills in long arcs from side to side. The Roseate Spoonbill feeds alone or in small groups, and is frequently seen in company of other wading birds.

Distribution: The Roseate Spoonbill is found in Coastal Texas, southwest Louisiana, southern Florida; Cuba and Isle of Pines; Hispaniola; Great Inagua in south Bahamas. South locally in coastal Mexico from north Sinaloa through Middle America to Panama, and in Colombia, Venezuela and Guianas, east of the Andes through east Ecuador, east Peru, Bolivia and Brazil to Paraguay, Uruguay and northern Argentina to Cordoba and Buenos Aires; west of Andes in west Ecuador.

Texas Coastal Fisheries Mapping Application and Data Download

Texas Coastal Fisheries Mapping Application and Data Download

The Texas Coastal Fisheries Mapping Application and Data Download gives the user access to over 30 years of fisheries data from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

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