Research Article

Landscape Ecology

, Volume 27, Issue 9, pp 1321-1335

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

The accuracy of land cover-based wetland assessments is influenced by landscape extent

  • Rebecca C. RooneyAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Waterloo Email author 
  • , Suzanne E. BayleyAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta
  • , Irena F. CreedAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Western Ontario
  • , Matthew J. WilsonAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta


Widespread degradation of wetlands has motivated the development of tools to evaluate wetland condition. The application of field-based tools over large regions can be prohibitively expensive; however, land cover data may provide a surrogate for intensive assessments, enabling rapid and cost-effective evaluation of wetlands throughout whole regions. Our goal was to determine if land cover data could be used to estimate the biotic integrity of wetlands in Alberta’s Beaverhills watershed. Biotic integrity was measured using both plant- and bird-based indices of biotic integrity (IBIs) in 45 wetlands. Land cover data were extracted from seven nested landscape extents (100–3,000 m radii) and used to model IBI scores. Strong, significant predictions of IBI scores were achieved using land cover data from every spatial extent, even after factoring out the influence of location to address the spatial autocorrelation of land cover classes. Plant-based IBI scores were best predicted using data from 100 m buffers and bird-based IBI scores were best predicted using data extracted from 500 m buffers. Road cover or density and measures of the proportion of disturbed land were consistent predictors of IBI score, suggesting their universal importance to plant and bird communities. Simplified models using the proportion of undisturbed land were less accurate than more detailed models (reductions in r 2 of 0.31–0.32). Regardless of the level of detail in land cover classification, our results emphasize the need to optimize landscape extent for the taxonomic group of interest: an issue that is typically poorly articulated in studies reporting on the development of GIS-based assessment methods. Our results also highlight the need to calibrate models in test areas before scaling up, to ensure predictive accuracy.


Wetland assessment Regional assessment Buffer Land cover Index of biotic integrity Birds Vegetation North Saskatchewan watershed Canada Spatial autocorrelation