A quantitative approach to developing regional ecosystem classifications

George E Host, Philip L. Polzer, David J. Mladenoff, Mark A. White, Thomas R. Crow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Ecological land classification systems have recently been developed at continental, regional, state, and landscape scales. In most cases, the map units of these systems result from subjectively drawn boundaries, often derived by consensus and with unclear choice and weighting of input data. Such classifications are of variable accuracy and are not reliably repeatable. We combined geographic information systems (GIS) with multivariate statistical analyses to integrate climatic, physiographic, and edaphic databases and produce a classification of regional landscape ecosystems on a 29 340-km2 quadrangle of northwestern Wisconsin. Climatic regions were identified from a high-resolution climatic database consisting of 30-yr mean monthly temperature and precipitation values interpolated over a 1-km2 grid across the study area. Principal component analysis (PCA) coupled with an isodata clustering algorithm was used to identify regions of similar seasonal climatic trends. Maps of Pleistocene geology and major soil morphosequences were used to identify the major physiographic and soil regions within the landscape. Climatic and physiographic coverages were integrated to identify regional landscape ecosystems, which potentially differ in characteristic forest composition, successional dynamics, potential productivity, and other ecosystem-level processes. Validation analysis indicated strong correspondence between forest cover classes from an independently derived Landsat Thematic Mapper classification and ecological region. The development of more standardized data sets and analytical methods for ecoregional classification provides a basis for sound interpretations of forest management at multiple spatial scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)608-618
Number of pages11
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1996


  • Climate
  • Ecological land classification
  • Geographic information systems
  • Landscape ecosystem
  • Physiography
  • Wisconsin


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