Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 185, Issue 4, pp 3057–3079 | Cite as

Ecosystem classifications based on summer and winter conditions

  • Margaret E. AndrewEmail author
  • Trisalyn A. Nelson
  • Michael A. Wulder
  • George W. Hobart
  • Nicholas C. Coops
  • Carson J. Q. Farmer


Ecosystem classifications map an area into relatively homogenous units for environmental research, monitoring, and management. However, their effectiveness is rarely tested. Here, three classifications are (1) defined and characterized for Canada along summertime productivity (moderate-resolution imaging spectrometer fraction of absorbed photosynthetically active radiation) and wintertime snow conditions (special sensor microwave/imager snow water equivalent), independently and in combination, and (2) comparatively evaluated to determine the ability of each classification to represent the spatial and environmental patterns of alternative schemes, including the Canadian ecozone framework. All classifications depicted similar patterns across Canada, but detailed class distributions differed. Class spatial characteristics varied with environmental conditions within classifications, but were comparable between classifications. There was moderate correspondence between classifications. The strongest association was between productivity classes and ecozones. The classification along both productivity and snow balanced these two sets of variables, yielding intermediate levels of association in all pairwise comparisons. Despite relatively low spatial agreement between classifications, they successfully captured patterns of the environmental conditions underlying alternate schemes (e.g., snow classes explained variation in productivity and vice versa). The performance of ecosystem classifications and the relevance of their input variables depend on the environmental patterns and processes used for applications and evaluation. Productivity or snow regimes, as constructed here, may be desirable when summarizing patterns controlled by summer- or wintertime conditions, respectively, or of climate change responses. General purpose ecosystem classifications should include both sets of drivers. Classifications should be carefully, quantitatively, and comparatively evaluated relative to a particular application prior to their implementation as monitoring and assessment frameworks.


Classification agreement Ecological regionalization Environmental domain classification Fraction of absorbed photosynthetically active radiation (fPAR) Map comparison Snow water equivalent (SWE) 



Analysis of similarity


Dynamic habitat index


Fraction of absorbed photosynthetically active radiation


Moderate-resolution imaging spectrometer


Special sensor microwave/imager


Snow water equivalent



This research was facilitated through support of “BioSpace: Biodiversity monitoring with Earth observation data” through the Government Related Initiatives Program of the Canadian Space Agency.


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Copyright information

© © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Margaret E. Andrew
    • 1
    Email author
  • Trisalyn A. Nelson
    • 2
  • Michael A. Wulder
    • 1
  • George W. Hobart
    • 1
  • Nicholas C. Coops
    • 3
  • Carson J. Q. Farmer
    • 4
  1. 1.Canadian Forest Service (Pacific Forestry Centre)Natural Resources CanadaVictoriaCanada
  2. 2.Spatial Pattern Analysis and Research (SPAR) Laboratory, Department of GeographyUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada
  3. 3.Department of Forest Resource ManagementUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  4. 4.National Centre for GeocomputationNational University of Ireland MaynoothMaynoothIreland

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