Landscape Ecology

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 1–16 | Cite as

A new approach to ecological land classification for the Canadian boreal forest that integrates disturbances

  • Pierre GrondinEmail author
  • Sylvie Gauthier
  • Daniel Borcard
  • Yves Bergeron
  • Jean Noël
Research Article


Traditional approaches to ecological land classification (ELC) can be enhanced by integrating, a priori, data describing disturbances (natural and human), in addition to the usual vegetation, climate, and physical environment data. To develop this new ELC model, we studied an area of about 175,000 km2 in the Abies balsameaBetula papyrifera and Picea mariana-feathermoss bioclimatic domains of the boreal forest of Québec, in eastern Canada. Forest inventory plots and maps produced by the Ministère des Ressources naturelles du Québec from 1970 to 2000 were used to characterize 606 ecological districts (average area 200 km2) according to three vegetation themes (tree species, forest types, and potential vegetation-successional stages) and four sets of explanatory variables (climate, physical environment, natural and human disturbances). Redundancy, cluster (K-means) and variation partitioning analyses were used to delineate, describe, and compare homogeneous vegetation landscapes. The resulting ELC is hierarchical with three levels of observation. Among the 14 homogeneous landscapes composing the most detailed level, some are dominated by relatively young forests originating from fires dating back to the period centered on 1921. In others, forest stands are older (fires from the period centered on 1851), some are under the influence of insect outbreaks and fires (southern part), while the rest are strongly affected by human activities and Populus tremuloides expansion. For all the study area and for parts of it, partitioning reveals that natural disturbance is the dominant data set explaining spatial variation in vegetation. However, the combination of natural disturbances, climate, physical environment and human disturbances always explains a high proportion of variation. Our approach, called “ecological land classification of homogeneous vegetation landscapes”, is more comprehensive than previous ELCs in that it combines the concepts and goals of both landscape ecology and ecosystem-based management.


Ecological land classification Ecological gradients Homogeneous vegetation landscapes Natural disturbances Human disturbances Redundancy analysis K-means clustering Variation partitioning of vegetation 



Data (plots, maps, archives) used in this study were collected by the staff of the Ministère des Ressources naturelles du Québec (MRN) between 1970 and 2000. This study could not have been produced without the effort of many individuals. Comments by Yan Boucher, David T. Cleland, Paul Jasinski, Jason Laflamme, Del Meidinger, Germain Mercier, 2 anonymous reviewers, as well as stylistic revisions by Debra Christiansen-Stowe, Karen Grislis, and Denise Tousignant were all greatly appreciated. We would also like to thank Denis Hotte and Véronique Poirier for their assistance in data analysis and geomatics. This study was funded by the MRN.

Supplementary material

10980_2013_9961_MOESM1_ESM.doc (7.1 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 7255 kb)


  1. Ahti T, Hämet-Ahti L, Jalas J (1968) Vegetation zones and their sections in northwestern Europe. Ann Bot Fenn 5:169–211Google Scholar
  2. Allen TFH, Hoekstra TW (1992) Toward a unified ecology. Columbia University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Arbour ML, Bergeron Y (2011) Effect of increased Populus cover on Abies regeneration in the Picea-feathermoss boreal forest. J Veg Sci 22:1132–1142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bailey RG (1983) Delineation of ecosystem regions. Environ Manag 7:365–373CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bailey RG (1987) Suggested hierarchy of criteria for multiscale ecosystem mapping. Landsc Urban Plan 14:313–319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bailey RG (2009) Ecosystem geography: from ecoregions to sites, 2nd edn. Springer, SecaucusCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bailey RG, Zoltai SC, Wiken EB (1985) Ecological regionalization in Canada and the United States. Geoforum 16:265–275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Barnes BV, Pregitzer KS, Spies TA, Spooner VH (1982) Ecological forest site classification. J For 80:493–498Google Scholar
  9. Bergeron Y, Gauthier S, Kafka V, Lefort P, Lesieur D (2001) Natural fire frequency for the eastern Canadian boreal forest: consequences for sustainable forestry. Can J For Res 31:384–391CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Borcard D, Legendre P (1994) Environmental control and spatial structure in ecological communities: an example using oribatid mites (Acari, Oribatei). Environ Ecol Stat 1:37–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Borcard D, Legendre P, Drapeau P (1992) Partialling out the spatial component of ecological variation. Ecology 73:1045–1055CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Borcard D, Gillet F, Legendre P (2011) Numerical ecology with R. Springer, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Boucher Y, Arseneault D, Sirois L, Blais L (2009) Logging pattern and landscape changes over the last century at the boreal and deciduous transition in Eastern Canada. Landscape Ecol 24:171–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carleton TJ, MacLellan P (1994) Woody vegetation response to fire versus clear-cutting logging: a comparative survey in the central Canadian boreal forest. Ecoscience 1:141–152Google Scholar
  15. Cissel JH, Swanson FJ, Weisberg PJ (1999) Landscape management using historical fire regimes: Blue river, Oregon. Ecol Appl 9:1217–1231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cleland DT, Avers PE, McNab WH, Jensen ME, Bailey RG, King T, Russell WE (1997) National hierarchical framework of ecological units. In: Boyce MS, Haney A (eds) Ecosystem management applications for sustainable forest and wildlife resources. Yale University Press, New Haven, pp 181–200Google Scholar
  17. Clements FE (1910) The life history of lodgepole burn forests. US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, D.C. Bulletin 79, p 56Google Scholar
  18. Couillard PL, Payette S, Grondin P (2012) Recent impact of fire on high-altitude balsam fir forests in south-central Quebec. Can J For Res 42:1289–1305CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cyr D, Gauthier S, Bergeron Y, Carcaillet C (2009) Forest management is driving the eastern North American boreal forest outside its natural range of variability. Front Ecol Environ 7:519–524Google Scholar
  20. Damman AWH (1964) Some forest types of central Newfoundland and their relation to environmental factors. Forest science monograph and Society of American foresters (no. 8)Google Scholar
  21. Damman AWH (1979) The role of vegetation analysis in land classification. For Chron 55:175–182Google Scholar
  22. Dansereau P (1957) Biogeography, an ecological perspective. Ronald Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  23. Daubenmire RF (1968) Plant communities, a textbook of plant synecology. Harper and Row, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  24. Dufrêne M, Legendre P (1991) Geographic structure and potential ecological factors in Belgium. J Biogeogr 18:257–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gauthier S, Leduc A, Harvey B, Bergeron Y, Drapeau P (2001) Les perturbations naturelles et la diversité écosystémique. Nat Can 125:10–17Google Scholar
  26. Gerardin V, Ducruc JP (1990) The ecological reference framework for Quebec: a useful tool for forest sites evaluation. Vegetatio 87:19–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Grandtner MM (1966) La végétation forestière du Québec méridional. Presses Université Laval, QuébecGoogle Scholar
  28. Grondin P, Cimon A (2003) Les enjeux de biodiversité relatifs à la composition forestière. Gouvernement du Québec, Ministère des Ressources naturelles, de la Faune et des Parcs. Direction de la recherche forestière
  29. Grondin P, Noël J, Hotte D (2007) L’intégration de la végétation et de ses variables explicatives à des fins de classification et de cartographie d’unités homogènes du Québec méridional. Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune, Direction de la recherche forestière. Mémoire de recherche forestière no 150, p 62Google Scholar
  30. Grossman DH, Bourgeron P, Bush DN, Cleland D, Platts W, Ray GC, Robins CR, Roloff G (1999) Principles for ecological classification. In: Szaro RC, Johnson NC, Sexton WT, Malk AJ (eds) Ecological stewardship: a common reference for ecosystem management, vol 2. Elsevier Science, Oxford, pp 353–393Google Scholar
  31. Halliday WED (1937) A forest classification for Canada. Department of Mines and Resources, Land, Parks and Resources Branch, Canada, Ottawa, Forest Service Bulletin no 89Google Scholar
  32. Hardy R, Séguin N (1984) Forêt et société en Mauricie: la formation de la région de Trois- Rivières 1830-1930. Boréal-Express, MontrealGoogle Scholar
  33. Hare FK (1950) Climate and zonal divisions of the boreal forest formation in eastern Canada. Geogr Rev 40:615–635CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Heinselman ML (1973) Fire in the virgin forests of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Minnesota. Quat Res 3:329–382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hills GA (1960) Regional site research. For Chron 36:401–423Google Scholar
  36. Hustich I (1949) On the forest geography of the Labrador Peninsula. A preliminary synthesis. Acta geogr 10:1–63Google Scholar
  37. Jenny H (1958) Role of the plant factor in the pedogenic functions. Ecology 39:5–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Jurdant M, Bélair JL, Gerardin V, Ducruc JP (1977) L’inventaire du Capital-Nature: méthode de classification et de cartographie écologique du territoire (3ème approximation). Pêches et Environnement Canada, Série de la classification écologique du territoire, no 2Google Scholar
  39. Klijn F, de Haes HAU (1994) A hierarchical approach to ecosystems and its implications for ecological land classification. Landscape Ecol 9:89–104Google Scholar
  40. Küchler AW (1964) Potential natural vegetation of the conterminous United States. American Geographical Society, vol 36, New-YorkGoogle Scholar
  41. Laquerre S, Leduc A, Harvey B (2009) Augmentation du couvert en peuplier faux-tremble dans les pessières noires du nord-ouest du Québec après coupe totale. Ecoscience 16:483–491CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Legendre P, Fortin MJ (1989) Spatial pattern and ecological analysis. Vegetatio 80:107–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Legendre P, Gallagher E (2001) Ecologically meaningful transformations for ordination of species data. Oecologia 129:271–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Legendre P, Legendre L (2012) Numerical ecology. 3rd English edn. Elsevier, The NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  45. Legendre P, Borcard D, Peres-Neto PR (2005) Analyzing beta diversity: partitioning the spatial variation of community composition data. Ecol Monogr 75:435–450CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lertzman KP, Fall J (1998) From forest stands to landscapes: spatial scales and the roles of disturbances. In: Peterson DL, Parker VT (eds) Ecological scale: theory and applications. Columbia University Press, New York, pp 339–367Google Scholar
  47. Lorimer CG (2001) Historical and ecological roles of disturbance in eastern North America forests: 9,000 years of change. Wildl Soc Bull 29:425–439Google Scholar
  48. Mansuy N, Gauthier S, Robitaille A, Bergeron Y (2010) The effects of surficial deposit–drainage combinations on spatial variations of fire cycles in the boreal forest of eastern Canada. Int J Wildland Fire 19:1083–1098CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. McCune B, Allen TFH (1985) Will similar forests develop on similar sites? Can J Bot 63:367–376CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. McGarigal K, Cushman SA (2005) The gradient concept of landscape structure. In: Wiens J, Moss M (eds) Issues and perspectives in landscape ecology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 112–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Ohmann JL, Spies TA (1998) Regional gradient analysis and spatial pattern of woody plant communities of Oregon forests. Ecol Monogr 68:151–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Omi PN, Wensel LC, Murphy JL (1979) An application of multivariate statistics to land-use planning: classifying land units into homogeneous zones. For Sci 25:399–414Google Scholar
  53. Östlund L, Zackrisson O, Axelsson AL (1997) The history and transformation of a Scandinavian boreal forest landscape since the 19th century. Can J For Res 27:1198–1206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Payette S (1992) Fire as a controlling process in the North American boreal forest. In: Shugart HH, Leemans R, Bonan GB (eds) A systems analysis of the global boreal forest. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 144–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Peres-Neto PR, Legendre P, Dray S, Borcard D (2006) Variation partitioning of species data matrices: estimation and comparison of fractions. Ecology 87:2614–2625PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Pojar J, Klinka K, Meidinger DV (1987) Biogeoclimatic ecosystem classification in British Columbia. For Ecol Manag 22:119–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Powell DC (2000) Potential vegetation, disturbance, plant succession and other aspects of forest ecology. US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region, Umatilla National Forest, Technical Publication F14-SO-TP-09-00, p 88Google Scholar
  58. R Development Core Team (2010) R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria.
  59. Régnière J (1996) Generalized approach to landscape-wide seasonal forecasting with temperature-driven simulations models. Environ Entomol 25:869–881Google Scholar
  60. Rey P (1960) Essai de phytocinétique biogéographique. Centre national de la recherche scientifique, ParisGoogle Scholar
  61. Robitaille A, Saucier JP (1998) Paysages régionaux du Québec méridional. Les publications du Québec, QuébecGoogle Scholar
  62. Rowe JS (1962) Soil, site and land classification. For Chron 38:420–432Google Scholar
  63. Rowe JS (1972) Forest regions of Canada. Environment Canada. Canadian Forestry Service Publication No. 1300Google Scholar
  64. Rowe JS, Sheard JW (1981) Ecological land classification: a survey approach. Environ Manag 5:451–464CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Saucier JP, Grondin P, Robitaille A, Gosselin J, Morneau C, Richard PJH, Brisson J, Sirois L, Leduc A, Morin H, Thiffault É, Gauthier S, Lavoie C, Payette S (2009) Écologie forestière, chap 4. In: Manuel de foresterie, 2ème édition, Ouvrage collectif. Éditions MultiMondes et Ordre des ingénieurs forestiers du Québec, Québec, pp 165–315Google Scholar
  66. Schulte LA, Mladenoff DJ, Crow TR, Merrick LC, Cleland DT (2007) Homogenization of northern US Great Lakes forests due to land use. Landscape Ecol 22:1089–1103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Tuomisto H, Ruokolainen K (2006) Analyzing or explaining beta diversity? Understanding the targets of different methods of analysis. Ecology 87:2697–2708PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Turner MG (1989) Landscape ecology: the effect of pattern on process. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 20:171–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Turner MG, Romme WH, Gardner RH, O’Neil RV, Kratz TK (1993) A revised concept of landscape equilibrium: disturbance and stability on scaled landscapes. Landscape Ecol 8:213–227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Urban DL, O’Neil RV, Shugart HH (1987) Landscape ecology: a hierarchical perspective can help scientists understand spatial patterns. Bioscience 37:119–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Wagner HH, Fortin MJ (2005) Spatial analysis of landscapes: concepts and statistics. Ecology 86:1975–1987CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. White PS (1979) Pattern, process, and natural disturbance in vegetation. Bot Rev 45:229–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. White PS (1987) Natural disturbance, patch dynamics, and landscape pattern in natural areas. Nat Area J 7:14–22Google Scholar
  74. White PS, Jentsch A (2001) The search for generality in studies of disturbance and ecosystem dynamics. Prog Bot 62:399–450CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. White MA, Mladenoff DJ (1994) Old-growth landscape transitions from pre-European settlement to present. Landscape Ecol 9:191–205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. White PS, Harrod J, Romme WH, Betancourt J (1999) Disturbance and temporal dynamics. In: Szaro RC, Johnson NC, Sexton WT, Malk AJ (eds) Ecological stewardship: a common reference for ecosystem management, vol 2. Elsevier Science, Oxford, pp 281–312Google Scholar
  77. Whittaker RH (1967) Gradient analysis of vegetation. Biol Rev 49:207–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Wu J, Loucks OL (1995) From balance of nature to hierarchical patch dynamics: a paradigm shift in ecology. Q Rev Biol 70:439–466CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Zonneveld IS (1989) The land unit—A fundamental concept in landscape ecology, and its applications. Landscape Ecol 3:67–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pierre Grondin
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sylvie Gauthier
    • 2
  • Daniel Borcard
    • 3
  • Yves Bergeron
    • 4
  • Jean Noël
    • 1
  1. 1.Ministère des Ressources naturellesDirection de la Recherche forestièreQuebecCanada
  2. 2.Laurentian Forestry Center, Canadian Forest ServiceNatural Resources CanadaQuebecCanada
  3. 3.Département des sciences biologiquesUniversité de MontréalMontrealCanada
  4. 4.Institut de recherche sur les forêtsUniversité du Québec en Abitibi-TémiscamingueRouyn-NorandaCanada

Personalised recommendations