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Standardization of Terrestrial and Wetland Habitat Classification and Mapping

Critically Evaluating Existing Methods and Supporting a Standardization of Terrestrial and Wetland Habitat Classification and Mapping that Includes Characterization of Climate Sensitive Systems

This project, sponsored by the Northeast Climate Science Center, facilitated coordination among the scientific community to assess existing habitat classification and mapping products within the Northeastern and Midwest United States.

This project facilitated coordination among the scientific community to provide a comparison of existing habitat classification and mapping products within the footprint of the Northeast Climate Science Center (NE CSC). This study also provided an evaluation of habitat vulnerability to climate change within the region and recommendations for needed improvement in habitat mapping products for the future.

Investigators compared maps produced by LANDFIRE (LF), Southeast GAP Analysis (SEGAP), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and NatureServe (NS) for the eastern USA.  All the efforts use the NS Ecological Systems Classification with modifications as their legend. The LF and NS maps cover the whole U.S., whereas the area of coverage for other maps is limited.  The NS map is a compilation and modification of the LF and SEGAP maps.  In areas of overlap, the four maps are quite different at their finest thematic resolution (when more vegetation types are mapped) but more similar when fewer vegetation types are mapped.  Differences are in part due to the nature of the vegetation continuum itself (e.g. inexact differences separating mapped types).  Investigators concluded that it was not possible to determine which map was more accurate, and they could not be mixed and matched to create a ‘best map.’  

Each map exhibits qualities and challenges unique to end users’ needs. The TNC map is most cartographically appealing.  The LF effort adheres to set national methods and standards and producers are most often unable to respond to the individual concerns of regional, state, or local users.  Depending on their needs, end users must create customized maps at their own cost (e.g. the TNC map), modify national maps, or simply use national maps as they are delivered.  The LF map is due for a refresh within the next few years, but other maps may not be refreshed.  The National Landcover Dataset, which was not assessed as part of this effort, has the longest history of being refreshed at regular intervals but maps the fewest vegetation types.  It is easy to interpret, and would be the most straightforward for a local user to modify by using map overlays.

NE CSC Website: http://necsc.umass.edu/projects/critically-evaluating-existing-methods-and-supporting-standardization-terrestrial-and-wetla

Project Leader:

David Diamond (University of Missouri)

Research Partners:

Don Faber-Langendoen (NatureServe)

The NE CSC funded project, “Critical Evaluation of Methods and Outcomes for Habitats/Ecological Systems Classification and Mapping in the Northeast and Midwest U.S." is complete!  The overall goal of this project was to compare maps and classification systems from various producers to identify opportunities for consolidating the strongest qualities in each mapping system to produce a ‘best map’ for the Northeastern and Midwestern U.S.

meeting was held on June 13, 2014 at the US FWS Region 5 Office to review and discuss ongoing efforts related to the project. The agenda and meeting materials can be accessed here.

Other related materials include:

Abstract: Comparison of Vegetation Classifications for the Eastern USA

Vegetation Mapping for the Eastern USA Workshop Draft

Northeast Climate Science Center