ECOSYSTEM CLASSIFICATION SYSTEMS
Before reading this page, we recommend you read the ecosystem concept first.
Several physiognomic-ecological are available:
Several aquatic ecosystem classification systems are available and an effort is being made by the USGS to design a complete ecosystem classification system that covers both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. In absence of an integrated model, we have developed the aquatic classifiers or modifiers that can be distinguished from satellite images and ancillary data.
The UNESCO classification system related classification variants all allow fairly to rather detailed (depending on the use of floristic elements) classification of biounits with a reasonable degree of geographical consistency. From the previous analysis of modifiers, it may be clear that these classification systems not only provide information that leads to information about the vegetation, but about conditions that determine the suitability of that location to representatives of any taxon, particularly when complemented with additional ecological classifiers when appropriate. From the previous consideration, it may be deducted that different recombinations of modifiers most likely lead to partial different assemblages of species. Particularly by incorporating an aquatic “formation”, sets or assemblages of ecosystems and species has been added that were not considered in the original design of the UNESCO classification system, based on specific aquatic classifiers. Sometimes, specific zoological information can and needs to be mapped, such as the distribution of coral reefs and faunal congregation sites (e.g. breeding, rutting and roosting sites). Such detail on faunistic elements must be superimposed on vegetation and/or substrate modifiers in the same way as floristic elements.
The UNESCO classification
classification variants all allow fairly to rather detailed (depending on the
use of floristic elements) classification of biounits with a reasonable degree
of geographical consistency. Download the UNESCO classification
Download the UNESCO classification system manual.
Systematically, the LCCS is more
consistent and modern system and we basically would recommend to use this
system outside of the USA, where the USNVC classification
system had become the
standard. It is very convenient because it has a digital
classes selection programme. From the previous analysis of modifiers, it
may be clear that these classification systems not only provide information that
leads to information about the vegetation, but about conditions that determine
the suitability of that location to representatives of any taxon, particularly
when complemented with additional ecological characteristics when appropriate.
From the previous consideration, it may be deducted that different
recombinations of modifiers most likely lead to partial different assemblages of
species. Particularly by incorporating an aquatic “formation”, sets or
assemblages of ecosystems and species has been added that were not considered in
the original design of the UNESCO classification system.
The developers of the LCCS (di Gregorio & Jansen 2000) object that most existing systems (both for vegetation cover and specific features like agriculture) are unable to define the whole range of possible land cover classes. First of all, this is incorrect. The UNESCO system and its derivatives can very well classify any crop. A potato crop would be a seasonal forbes prairy and a ricefield can be classified as a poorly drained meadow or grassland. But even if true, this does not necessarily pose insurmountable drawbacks, as different complementary thematic classification systems may be applied to the same study area. Even the LCCS lives by that philosophy, as it states that for bare soil, the soil type can be added according to the FAO/UNESCO Revised Soil Legend. What is important however, is that care must be taken, to not lose the primary focus of a mapping project. By incorporating too many classifiers, the complexity of the data may clutter the information, while printed versions of maps may become illegible. A national thematic ecosystem map needs to distinguish at least some thirty main classes, often more. If such map would also includes different levels of intervention of those classes, the number may more than double. Adding detailed agricultural information to such a map would unduly raise the complexity for the user. Additionally, it is difficult enough to obtain adequate funding for the field of focus of the map, and – depending on the country – it may not be wise to spend limited resources on non-target themes. Thirdly, maps almost always require some level of abstraction, and adding agricultural information to an ecosystems map risks applying a wrong category to some kind of field specifically known to a user. Such insignificant error in the context of the main theme may be of great significance to that user and an overall disqualification of the map may result from classification errors in what would be a secondary level of information in the context of the map in question.
The USNVC has been commonly used in the USA, in spite of the fact that to our knowledge, there is no official manual, but I found a document that approaches it: FGDS and ESA Guiding Principles for Vegetation Classification. It is an annex to another document, but I could not find which. There is a rather elaborate document as a technical background paper by Grossman et al (1998), Terrestrial Vegetations of the United States, The National Vegetation Classification System Development, Status and Applications, Volume 1. This document does not however provide the system itself. I can't find a digital copy of Volume 2, but from what I remember, it does not provide a nice systematic approach to the system as aforementioned document.
The applications if the USNVC are rather limited to NatureServe, a technical spin-off of the developer of the system, the Nature Conservancy. The system is rather focused on the USA, but in principle it could be used worldwide. The LCCS however is considerably more worldwide oriented and it has the very systematic classification tool. NatureServe has made a continent-wide ecosystems map for South America, but that is based on certain data sets it could acquire free of charge and it is not consistent with this system, or anything else. Some of those data (geological data) would have very little and inconsistent bearing on ecosystems characteristics from the perspective of distinguishing between distinct species assemblages. So, my feelings would be to not use either the USNVC nor this ecosystems map for South America.
You can download the UNESCO Classification System, the LCCS and the USNVC from: http://www.gis4biologists.info/important_gis_tools.htm
The integrated approach is in the IUCN task force on Protected Areas System Composition and Monitoring (Vreugdenhil et al 2003)
Keywords: ecosystems, classification, UNESCO, LCCS, USNVC, system
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