, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 427-442

Landscape classification and strategic assessment for conservation: an analysis of native cover loss in far south-east Australia

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If two forest types are poorly related, their conservation status will have limited mutual relevance. Conversely, if two forest types are highly related, their conservation status will have substantial mutual relevance. The interpretation of measured conditions within any landscape class will be sensitive to conditions in other landscape classes in a region according to the strength of relations, or affinity, between them. This paper investigates the importance of recognising and accounting for relations between landscape classes in the context of assessing the conservation status of natural environments and in determining priorities for conservation. A typology of relations between landscape classes is presented and the concept of the 'relational profile' is introduced. The investigation is based on an analysis of native cover loss in environments identified in far south-east Australia. Environmental heterogeneity is defined in terms of climatic attributes which describe meso-scaled thermal and water resources distributions. Environment classes and relations between classes are defined and expressed using agglomerative clustering techniques. A comparison is made of two environments in the region that retain small proportions of extant natural cover, showing that very different conditions exist in the other environments to which they respectively relate. The study demonstrates that conclusions about the conservation status of environments and the identification of opportunities for environmental protection may depend on conditions in related environments and the strength of relations between these environments. The implications of the analysis for strategic assessment in conservation are discussed.