Ecological land classification

Ecological land classification is a cartographical delineation or regionalisation of distinct ecological areas, identified by their geology, topography, soils, vegetation, climate conditions, living species, habitats, water resources, and sometimes also anthropic factors.[1] These factors control and influence biotic composition and ecological processes.


The expression "ecological land classification" as understood in this article, is approximate with the biogeographical and ecological regionalisations in a scientific context (see biogeographic units).

However, its actual usage is more approximate with a tool used for land management, in the context of environmental resource management.[2][3]

In Canada ecological land classification schemes are commonly used.[4] Provincial authorities have adopted methods to classify ecosystems within various ecoregions of the province. Ontario is one such province that uses an extensive method to define ecological units.[5] Improvements in hand held technology have allowed for more efficient collection of vegetation and physiological data in the field, such as with the ELC eTool.[6]

Classification types

Many different lists and ecological land classification schemes have been developed.[7][8][9]

Approaches to classifications

American geographer Robert Bailey defines a hierarchy of ecosystem units ranging from micro-ecosystems (individual homogeneous sites, in the order of 10 square kilometres (4 sq mi) in area), through meso-ecosystems (landscape mosaics, in the order of 1,000 square kilometres (400 sq mi)) to macro-ecosystems (ecoregions, in the order of 100,000 square kilometres (40,000 sq mi)).[10]

Bailey outlined five different methods for identifying ecosystems: gestalt ("a whole that is not derived through considerable of its parts"), in which regions are recognized and boundaries drawn intuitively; a map overlay system where different layers like geology, landforms and soil types are overlain to identify ecosystems; multivariate clustering of site attributes; digital image processing of remotely sensed data grouping areas based on their appearance or other spectral properties; or by a "controlling factors method" where a subset of factors (like soils, climate, vegetation physiognomy or the distribution of plant or animal species) are selected from a large array of possible ones are used to delineate ecosystems.[11]

In contrast with Bailey's methodology, Puerto Rico ecologist Ariel Lugo and coauthors identified ten characteristics of an effective classification system. For example that it be based on georeferenced, quantitative data; that it should minimize subjectivity and explicitly identify criteria and assumptions; that it should be structured around the factors that drive ecosystem processes; that it should reflect the hierarchical nature of ecosystems; that it should be flexible enough to conform to the various scales at which ecosystem management operates.[12]

Classification schemes

Following, a comparison of classification schemes and terms used in the study of the biotic and abiotic components of ecosystems and the Earth in ecology and other fields.


In ecology:


In biogeography:

Realm- or Ecozone-related


In zoogeography:


In phytogeography:


For the physiognomic approach, see Vegetation#Classifications.

For the association (phytosociological) approach, see Phytosociology#Classificatory traditions.


In physiography:


In Geology:


In pedology:


Köppen (1884)

  • Main climate group, 5 groups, 1st letter
    • Type of precipitation pattern, 2nd letter
      • Subtype, degree of summer heat, 3rd letter


See also


  1. ^ Kellogg, Charles (February 1933). "A Method for the Classification of Rural Lands for Assessment in Western North Dakota". The Journal of Land & Public Utility Economics. 9 (1): 12. JSTOR 3138756.
  2. ^ Miller, M.R. 1981. Ecological land classification terrestrial subsystem: a basic inventory system for planning and management on the Mark Twain National Forest. USDA Forest Service, Eastern Region. 56 pp., [1].
  3. ^ Williamson, J. C., Bestelmeyer, B. T., McClaran, M. P., Robinett, D., Briske, D. D., Wu, X. B., & Fernández-Giménez, M. E. (2016). Can ecological land classification increase the utility of vegetation monitoring data?. Ecological Indicators 69: 657-666.
  4. ^ Wicken, E. B. 1986. Terrestrial ecozones of Canada. Environment Canada. Ecological Land Classification Series No. 19. Lands Directorate, Ottawa. 26 pp.
  5. ^ "Introduction to ecological land classification systems". Queen’s Printer for Ontario. May 3, 2019.
  6. ^ [2].
  7. ^ Part of the list proposed below is inspired by Miklos Udvardy classification of the Biographical Provinces in the World which was prepared by Unesco's Man and the Biosphere program, published in 1975 and updated in 1982.
  8. ^ Udvardy, M. D. F. (1975). A classification of the biogeographical provinces of the world. IUCN Occasional Paper no. 18. Morges, Switzerland: IUCN, [3].
  9. ^
  10. ^ Bailey, Robert G. (2009). "Chapter 2". Ecosystem Geography (Second ed.). New York: Springer. pp. 25–28. ISBN 978-0-387-89515-4.
  11. ^ Bailey, Robert G. (2009). "Chapter 3". Ecosystem Geography (Second ed.). New York: Springer. pp. 29–40. ISBN 978-0-387-89515-4.
  12. ^ Lugo, A. E.; S.L. Brown; R. Dodson; T.S. Smith; H.H. Shugart (1999). "The Holdridge life zones of the conterminous United States in relation to ecosystem mapping" (PDF). Journal of Biogeography. 26 (5): 1025–1038. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2699.1999.00329.x.


  • Gregorich, E. G., and et al. "Soil and Environmental Science Dictionary." Canadian ecological land classification system, pp 111 (2001). Canadian Society of Soil Science. CRC Press LLC. ISBN 0-8493-3115-3.
  • Klijn, F., and H. A. Udo De Haes. 1994. "A hierarchical approach to ecosystems and its implications for ecological land classification." In: Landscape Ecology vol. 9 no. 2 pp 89–104 (1994). The Hague, SPB Academic Publishing bv.

External links

Biogeographic realm

A biogeographic realm or ecozone is the broadest biogeographic division of the Earth's land surface, based on distributional patterns of terrestrial organisms. They are subdivided in ecoregions, which are classified in biomes or habitat types.

The realms delineate large areas of the Earth's surface within which organisms have been evolving in relative isolation over long periods of time, separated from one another by geographic features, such as oceans, broad deserts, or high mountain ranges, that constitute barriers to migration. As such, biogeographic realms designations are used to indicate general groupings of organisms based on their shared biogeography. Biogeographic realms correspond to the floristic kingdoms of botany or zoogeographic regions of zoology.

Biogeographic realms are characterized by the evolutionary history of the organisms they contain. They are distinct from biomes, also known as major habitat types, which are divisions of the Earth's surface based on life form, or the adaptation of animals, fungi, micro-organisms and plants to climatic, soil, and other conditions. Biomes are characterized by similar climax vegetation. Each realm may include a number of different biomes. A tropical moist broadleaf forest in Central America, for example, may be similar to one in New Guinea in its vegetation type and structure, climate, soils, etc., but these forests are inhabited by animals, fungi, micro-organisms and plants with very different evolutionary histories.

The patterns of distribution of living organisms in the world's biogeographic realms were shaped by the process of plate tectonics, which has redistributed the world's land masses over geological history.


A bioregion is an ecologically and geographically defined area that is smaller than an ecozone, but larger than an ecoregion or an ecosystem, in the World Wildlife Fund classification scheme. There is also an attempt to use the term in a rank-less generalist sense, similar to the terms "biogeographic area" or "biogeographic unit".It may be conceptually similar to an ecoprovince.It is also differently used in the environmentalist context, being coined by Berg and Dasmann (1977).


A biotope is an area of uniform environmental conditions providing a living place for a specific assemblage of plants and animals. Biotope is almost synonymous with the term habitat, which is more commonly used in English-speaking countries. However, in some countries these two terms are distinguished: the subject of a habitat is a population, the subject of a biotope is a biocoenosis or biological community.

It is an English loanword derived from the German Biotop, which in turn came from the Greek bios, "life" and topos, "place". (The related word geotope has made its way into the English language by the same route, from the German Geotop.)

Climate classification

Climate classification systems are ways of classifying the world's climates. A climate classification may correlate closely with a biome category, as climate is a major influence on biological life in a region. The most popular classification scheme is probably the Köppen climate classification scheme.Climate classification systems include:

Aridity index

Alisov climate classification

Köppen climate classification

Holdridge life zone classification

Trewartha climate classification

Vahl climate classification


An ecoprovince is a biogeographic unit smaller than an ecozone that contains one or more ecoregions. According to Demarchi (1996), an ecoprovince encompasses areas of uniform climate, geological history and physiography (i.e. mountain ranges, large valleys, plateaus). Their size and broad internal uniformity make them ideal units for the implementation of natural resource policies.


Ecotopes are the smallest ecologically distinct landscape features in a landscape mapping and classification system. As such, they represent relatively homogeneous, spatially explicit landscape functional units that are useful for stratifying landscapes into ecologically distinct features for the measurement and mapping of landscape structure, function and change.

Like ecosystems, ecotopes are identified using flexible criteria, in the case of ecotopes, by criteria defined within a specific ecological mapping and classification system. Just as ecosystems are defined by the interaction of biotic and abiotic components, ecotope classification should stratify landscapes based on a combination of both biotic and abiotic factors, including vegetation, soils, hydrology, and other factors. Other parameters that must be considered in the classification of ecotopes include their period of stability (such as the number of years that a feature might persist), and their spatial scale (minimum mapping unit).

The first definition of ecotope was made by Thorvald Sørensen in 1936. Arthur Tansley picked this definition up in 1939 and elaborated it. He stated that an ecotope is "the particular portion, […], of the physical world that forms a home for the organisms which inhabit it". In 1945 Carl Troll first applied the term to landscape ecology "the smallest spatial object or component of a geographical landscape". Other academics clarified this to suggest that an ecotope is ecologically homogeneous and is the smallest ecological land unit that is relevant.

The term "patch" was used in place of the term "ecotope", by Foreman and Godron (1986), who defined a patch as "a nonlinear surface area differing in appearance from its surroundings". However, by definition, ecotopes must be identified using a full suite of ecosystem characteristics: patches are a more general type of spatial unit than ecotopes.

In ecology an ecotope has also been defined as "The species relation to the full range of environmental and biotic variables affecting it" (Whittaker et al., 1973), but the term is rarely used in this context, due to confusion with the ecological niche concept.

Evergreen forest

An evergreen forest is a forest made up of evergreen trees. They occur across a wide range of climatic zones, and include trees such as conifers, live oak, and holly in cold climates, eucalypts, acacias and banksias in more temperate zones, and rainforest trees in tropical zones.


Geotope is the geological component of the abiotic matrix present in an ecotope. Example geotopes might be: an exposed outcrop of rocks, an erratic boulder, a grotto or ravine, a cave, an old stone wall marking a property boundary, and so forth.

It is a loanword from German (Geotop) in the study of ecology and might be the model for many other similar words coined by analogy. As the prototype, it has enjoyed wider currency than many of the other words modelled on it, including physiotope, with which it is used synonymously. But the geotope is properly the rocks and not the whole lay of the land (which would be the physiotope).

Index of soil-related articles

This is an index of articles relating to soil.

Kootenay National Park

Kootenay National Park is a national park located in southeastern British Columbia, Canada, and is one component of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site. The park consists of 1,406 km2 (543 sq mi) of the Canadian Rockies, including parts of the Kootenay and Park mountain ranges, the Kootenay River and the entirety of the Vermilion River. While the Vermillion River is completely contained within the park, the Kootenay River has its headwaters just outside the park boundary, flowing through the park into the Rocky Mountain Trench, eventually joining the Columbia River. It ranges in elevation from 918 m (3,012 ft) at the southwestern park entrance, to 3,424 m (11,234 ft) at Deltaform Mountain. Initially called "Kootenay Dominion Park", the park was created in 1920 as part of an agreement between the province of British Columbia and the Canadian federal government to build a highway in exchange for title to a strip of land, approximately 8 km (5.0 mi) on either side of the 94 km route, the Banff-Windermere Highway, to be used solely for park purposes. While the park is open all year, the major tourist season lasts from June to September. Most campgrounds are open from early May to late September, while limited winter camping is available only at the Dolly Varden campground.

The Kootenay National Park is one of seven contiguous parks that form the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site. The Continental Divide is the boundary between the Kootenay and Banff National Park boundary, as well as the BC-Alberta provincial border. To the northwest, the watershed boundary between the Vermillion River and the Kicking Horse River is the park boundary between the Kootenay and Yoho National Park. The Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park also borders the Kootenay National Park. Jasper National Park, Mount Robson Provincial Park and Hamber Provincial Park make up the remainder of the World Heritage Site but do not share a boundary with Kootenay National Park.

List of ecoregions in Minnesota

The list of ecoregions in Minnesota provides an overview to the ecoregions (see also, ecosystem) in the U.S. state of Minnesota, as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency/Commission for Environmental Cooperation, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and the World Wildlife Fund.

Mexican dry forests

Mexican dry forest describes a number of ecoregions of Mexico within the dry broadleaf forest Biome.

Together they constitute a World Wildlife Fund Global 200 priority ecoregions area for conservation.


Pedotope is the total soil component of the abiotic matrix present in an ecotope. The pedotope is not one particular kind of soil, nor even the dominant kind of soil available in a location, but rather the total soil component (of all varieties) available in the location.


Physiotope is the total abiotic matrix of habitat present within any certain ecotope. The physiotope is the landform, the rocks and the soils, the climate and the hydrology, and the geologic processes which marshalled all these resources together in a certain way and in this time and place.


Phytotope is the total habitat available for colonisation within any certain ecotope or biotope by plants and fungi. The community of plants and fungi so established constitutes the phytocoenosis of that ecotope.

All these words (ecotope, biotope, phytotope and others) describe environmental niches at very small scales of consideration. A suburban garden or village park or wilderness ravine would each be deserving of the label.


Regionalization is the tendency to form decentralized regions.

Regionalization or land classification can be observed in various disciplines:

In agriculture, see Agricultural Land Classification.

In biogeography, see Biogeography#Biogeographic units.

In ecology, see Ecological land classification.

In geography, it has two ways: the process of delineating the Earth, its small areas or other units into regions and a state of such a delineation.

In globalization discourse, it represents a world that becomes less interconnected, with a stronger regional focus.

In politics, it is the process of dividing a political entity or country into smaller jurisdictions (administrative divisions or subnational units) and transferring power from the central government to the regions; the opposite of unitarisation. See Regionalism (politics).

In sport, it is when a team has multiple "home" venues in different cities. Examples of regionalized teams include a few teams in the defunct American Basketball Association, or the Green Bay Packers when they played in both Green Bay and Milwaukee from 1933-1994.

In linguistics, it is when a prestige language adopts features of a regional language, such as how, in medieval times, Church Latin developed regional pronunciation differences in the countries it was used, including Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, England, Germany, Denmark, Hungary, and Slavic countries.

Vegetation classification

Vegetation classification is the process of classifying and mapping the vegetation over an area of the earth's surface. Vegetation classification is often performed by state based agencies as part of land use, resource and environmental management. Many different methods of vegetation classification have been used. In general, there has been a shift from structural classification used by forestry for the mapping of timber resources, to floristic community mapping for biodiversity management. Whereas older forestry-based schemes considered factors such as height, species and density of the woody canopy, floristic community mapping shifts the emphasis onto ecological factors such as climate, soil type and floristic associations. Classification mapping is usually now done using geographic information systems (GIS) software.

Wetland classification

Classification of wetlands has been a problematical task, with the commonly accepted definition of what constitutes a wetland being among the major difficulties. A number of national wetland classifications exist. In the 1970s, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance introduced a first attempt to establish an internationally acceptable wetland classification scheme.


Zootope is the total habitat available for colonisation within any certain ecotope or biotope by animal life. The community of animals so established constitutes the zoocoenosis of that ecotope.

All these words (ecotope, biotope, zootope and others) describe environmental niches at very small scales of consideration. The rabbits and squirrels and mosquitoes of any suburban garden or village park, or the deer and wolves and birds of a wilderness ravine would each be deserving of the label.

See also

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