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Here are some tips to help you get more precise results in NatureServe Explorer.

Scientific and common names

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All species and communities are listed by their scientific and common names. You can use part of a scientific name or part of a common name, but you cannot use a combination of parts of the scientific and common name in the same search.


Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia)

Correct Incorrect
  • Pacific (common)
  • *yew (common)
  • yew (common)
  • Taxus (scientific)
  • brev* (scientific)
  • Taxus bre* (scientific)
  • brevifolia (scientific)

  • Pacific brevifolia
  • Taxus yew
  • Pacific Taxus
  • brevi* yew

    (All use parts of both scientific and common names.)

Note: These are only samples of correct searches.

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Sometimes a taxon is recognized locally or in an official listing ( local, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or COSEWIC) by a different name from the the Network's standard global reference. In many of these cases, records using those names are maintained along with the Network's standard name. Synonyms are most commonly maintained when a taxon is recognized in a local or official listing:

  • By a name that differs from the Network's standard global reference.
  • As species, subspecies, or variety that the Network does not recognize as distinct.
  • At a different taxonomic level than the one in the Network's standard global reference.

You can type in the synonym in the Name tab, but NatureServe Explorer will first search through standard taxonomic names based on its main sources (see Data Sources). If a match for your entry is not found in the standardized names, NatureServe Explorer will then search through the synonyms. However, if a match is found in the standard names, NatureServe Explorer will NOT search through the synonyms. When a record is retrieved by its synonym, it will still appear in the results by its standardized names and the synonym will appear with those names.

This means that if you search by a word that is used as the standardized name in some records and as a synonym in others, you will only obtain the records that use the word as the standardized name.





Poison ivy Toxicodendron radicans Rhus radicans
Poison oak Toxicodendron diversilobum Rhus diversilobum

Searches for Toxicodendron alone will include poison ivy and poison oak in the results. However, a search for Rhus only will NOT include them, because several species of sumac in the database use Rhus in their standard name. A search for Rhus radicans will retrieve only posion ivy and one for Rhus diversilobum will retrieve poison oak. Each record will have a note stating that the search name is a synonym.

Further explanations:

Also, when you use the genus Haplopappus for a group of plants in the aster family, you will find that that genus is a synonym for several species listed in the database, but not a standard name for a single record. This means you will obtain species that use Haplopappus in a synonom but have standard names with the following genera: Ericameria, Hazardia, Pyrrocoma, etc. The search results will include all the species that use Haplopappus in a synonym, because Haplopappus is not part of any standard name.

In another search, you would miss some database entries if you were to use the genus Berberis alone, because in some cases Berberis is part of the standard name and in others it is part of the synonym. So, if you entered only Berberis for your search, you would miss Mahonia nevinii, which uses Berberis nevinii as a synonym. To find Mahonia nevinii through the genus Berberis, you would have to search on the entire synonym: Berberis nevinii. However, you could find Mahonia nevinii, if you searched only using nevinii.

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Ignore punctuation

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Punctuation for names of plants, animals, and ecological communities can affect your search results. If you want to find all variations of punctuation with your term in the data, check the ignore punctuation box. If you want to find only the punctuation you use in your term, uncheck the ignore punctuation box

Example for a species search using bird:

Ignore punctuation WITH a check:

  • prairie bird-locust
  • obscure bird grasshopper
  • bird-voiced treefrog
  • buff-bellied hummingbird
  • bird milk-vetch
  • bird-of-paradise
  • Carolina bird-in-a-nest
  • any record that includes the four letters: bird

Ignore punctuation WITHOUT a check:

  • bird will find only obscure bird grasshopper and bird milk-vetch from the above list and all other records with names that have bird as a whole word, without hyphens, slashes, or other punctuation.

Example for a community search using Pinus echinata:

Ignore punctuation WITH a check will retrieve all records that have both pinus and echinata, no matter where each word appears:

Scientific name* Common name
Pinus echinata - Quercus alba - Quercus falcata Woodland Shortleaf Pine - White Oak Forest - Southern Red Oak Woodland
Pinus (echinata, taeda) Forest (Shortleaf Pine, Loblolly Pine) Forest
Pinus taeda - (Pinus echinata) - Quercus alba - Carya alba / Acer leucoderme Forest Loblolly Pine - (Shortleaf Pine) - white Oak, Mockernut Hickory / Chalk Maple Forest
Pinus virginiana - Pinus (rigida, echinata) - (Quercus prinus) / Vaccinium pallidum Forest Virginia Pine - (Pitch Pine, Shortleaf Pine) - (Rock Chestnut Oak) / Hillside Blueberry Forest

* These are only samples of records that you will obtain from this search.

Ignore punctuation WITHOUT a check will retireve only those records with the exact phrase pinus echinata in them. From the above list only the following will appear in your results:

Scientific name Common name
Pinus echinata - Quercus alba - Quercus falcate Woodland Shortleaf Pine - White Oak Forest - Southern Red Oak Woodland
Pinus taeda - (Pinus echinata) - Quercus alba - Carya alba / Acer leucoderme Forest Loblolly Pine - (Shortleaf Pine) - White Oak, Mockernut Hickory/Chalk Maple Forest

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If you do not know an element's full name or correct spelling, type the part of the name you know and an asterisk ( * ). The asterisk will hold the place of an undetermined number of spaces. You can use a wildcard in a search.


  • shrub* will find all shrubland and dwarf-shrubland associations
  • * under Search by Name for either a species or ecological community search in the Name tab will retreive all records for either search, or it can be a placeholder when you are using a group search.

Changing the wildcard's position will change your results.


Under Search by Name in the Plants/Animals tab

  • pweed will not retrieve any records
  • *pweed will find records with the exact phrase: hempweed, knapweed, seepweed, soapweed, sumpweed, etc.
  • p*weed will find records with p any where in the name and with weed together: pigweed, pondweed, pokeweed, poke milkweed, parrot-weed, pacific bindweed, etc., pllus the names listed in the previous example.
  • p*w*d will find plants and animals that have p, w, and d anywhere in the name, so the results in this set will be difficult to use for further research: piedmont groudwater amphipod, powdered dancer, Pacific white-sided dolphin, parry wormwood, pale dogwood, the records retrieved in the previous examples, and more.

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When you use a multiple-word search in the Name tab, or when you choose more than one selection in the Location — U.S. States and Canadian Provinces or Status tabs, you will need to choose between AND and OR. Each choice will return different results. AND means that a record must include all selected choices to be a part of the search results, but OR means that a record must include at least one of the choices but may include any of them.

Note: AND is the default.

Example for Name searches:

  • western bluebird (AND is the default) will find a single record for the species with this common name.
  • western OR bluebird will find records for bluebirds and all species with common name containing western, which will be several records.

Example for Location searches:

  • Louisiana AND Texas will include only those that occur in BOTH states.
  • Louisiana OR Texas will include species or communities that occur in at least one of those states or in both.

Examples for Status searches:

Status searches can be tricky. Each plant, animal, or community can have only one rank with a status category, such as global (G), national (N), and state (S). So, you will not find records with two or more Statuses within a given category. However, you can look for records that are in two or more of the categories.

Correct Incorrect
  • G1 AND S1 OR S2
  • G1 OR S1 OR S2
  • S1 OR S2
  • G1 AND S1 AND S2
  • G1 OR S1 AND S2
  • S1 AND S2

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Searching for ecological communities by group
Combining species and ecological community searches