Ecological Classification Systems
Ecoregions of North America.
By Adam Regn Arvidson
US EPA, HNEERL, Corvallis, Oregon
Quick: What ecoregion are you in? Powder River Basin?
Mid-Atlantic Flatwoods? Claypan Prairie? Ecoregions (in addition to having
evocative names) say a lot about landscape: what it looks like, how it
functions, and what you can expect while driving through it—or designing within
it. Ecoregions are one of many methods of ecological classification: ways of
describing, in relatively simple terms, the science of why a particular patch
of land differs from another. Ecological classifications answer questions such
as “What kinds of plants thrive here?” “How is soil type affecting surface
waters here?” and “What is the overall natural character of the landscape here?”
Because they often answer such questions with maps and narrative descriptions,
ecological classifications are powerful inventory and analysis tools for
Ecological classification systems come in two basic types:
general purpose and special purpose. Both types have important, though
different, applicability for landscape architects. Together, they can inform
design at a variety of scales. Special purpose systems focus in on a single
ecological factor—most often vegetation—to create highly detailed maps and
landscape descriptions. General purpose maps combine a wide variety of factors
(vegetation, geology, hydrology) to define large areas of similarity in the
landscape: the aforementioned ecoregions. The primary maps of United States ecoregions
have been prepared by The Nature Conservancy, the United States Forest Service,
and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
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