Ecosystem classifications based on summer and winter conditions

Margaret E. Andrew, Trisalyn A. Nelson, Michael A. Wulder, George W. Hobart, Nicholas C. Coops, Carson J.Q. Farmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3057-3079
Number of pages23
JournalEnvironmental Monitoring and Assessment
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2013
Externally publishedYes


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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