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KNOWING THE TERRITORY: LANDSCAPE ECOSYSTEM CLASSIFICATION AND MAPPING
Dennis A. Albert Department of Horticulture Oregon State University Corvallis, OR 97331 Dennis.Albert@oregonstate.edu
Marc Lapin Douglas R. Pearsall Program in Environmental Studies The Nature Conservancy in Michigan Middlebury College Lansing, MI 48906 Middlebury, VT 05753 dpearsall@TNC.org firstname.lastname@example.org
Burton V. Barnes was a pioneer of ecological land classification in North America. Since he first introduced integrated, multi-scale, multifactor landscape ecosystem theory and methodology at the University of Michigan in the early 1980s (e.g., Barnes et al. 1982), ecological classification and mapping has be- come widely accepted as a “best practice” in ecosystem and biodiversity conser- vation and sustainable resource management. Numerous other systems have been developed and are in use (e.g., state natural community classifications), but the methodology that Burt honed and taught likely remains the one that is most true to nature in describing and documenting the hierarchically nested, volumet- ric ecosystems of specific locales and regions. In the Barnes method, each clas- sification is discerned from the ground up, based on the combination of climate, landform, geology, soils, and hydrology.
Burt first encountered multifactor, ecoregional mapping in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg, an area of extremely diverse climate, ge- ology, and soils (Barnes 1996). There, in the 1940s, interdisciplinary teams began integrating geology, climate, soils, and vegetation in their classification systems and maps (Schlenker 1964, Mühlhäusser et al. 1983). At the local scale, they introduced the concept of ecological species groups, each of which consists of several plant species found growing in similar environmental conditions, thereby using repeating patterns of groups of species, rather than individual in- dicator species, to help in detecting ecological differences across the landscape (Schlenker 1964, Sebald 1964). After encountering this approach to forest ecol- ogy in Baden-Württemberg, Burt spent a great deal of his career studying and promoting landscape ecosystems as a means of understanding the spatial pat- terns of and the functional interrelationships in forest ecosystems. He loved learning about forest landscapes in this way, not only for an intrinsic under- standing of the fascinating nuances seen in such patterns and interrelationships, but also for improving the management and conservation of such ecosystems. He also loved sharing this way of reading the landscape with the thousands of stu-
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dents he taught and the many others he reached through his writings and presen- tations. Those of us who were with him in the field continue to hold an image of Burt carrying a long-handled shovel and wearing his cruiser’s vest. (Of course, when collecting aspens he traded the shovel for a pole pruner!)
Soon after the inception of ecological land classification in Germany, J. Stan Rowe, a Canadian ecologist, also began promoting a hierarchical concept of ecosystems and its application to forestry (Rowe 1961, 1962). Burt, a like- minded colleague, became a close friend of and collaborator with Dr. Rowe; they corresponded for decades, interchanging ideas and separately promoting an un- derstanding of geographically-based ecosystems that exist hierarchically at mul- tiple spatial scales (e.g., Rowe and Barnes 1994). They taught, wrote, and spoke about how, through multifactor, integrative research at both large and small scales, landscape ecosystems can be classified and mapped and the classification applied to the establishment of improved management and conservation prac- tices. This approach, although altered to a lesser or greater extent by different re- searchers, has had a large influence on the way ecologists and conservationists have studied and understood landscapes.
In the early 1980s, Burt introduced the landscape ecosystem approach to his graduate students at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE). Barnes and his students classified and mapped land- scape ecosystems by distinguishing the landforms (or physiography) of the local landscape and studying their interrelationships with the topography, soils, and microclimates. Burt taught that in the landscape ecosystem approach vegetation is a phytometer that helps us see ecologically meaningful differences in the land- scape (Figure 1). Landscape ecosystem classification and mapping thus differs substantially from vegetation classification and mapping; in the former, the place—its landform, landscape position, meso-and micro-climate, topography, soils, and hydrology—is primary. Burt wrote in Forest Ecology, 4th edition, “Ideally, we would like to delineate and map landscape ecosystems by integrat- ing all these components on all [geographic scales]. Although desirable, this for- midable task has not yet been accomplished except at the local or micro level” (Barnes et al. 1998, p. 24). The application of this approach to the “local level” to which Burt referred was initiated in the United States in Michigan, where he and students first classified and mapped local landscape ecosystems of old- growth forests within the Ottawa National Forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The work was done initially in the McCormick Experimental Forest (Pregitzer and Barnes 1984) and then in the Sylvania Wilderness Area (Spies and Barnes 1985). The classifications that resulted from these studies consisted of detailed maps and site unit descriptions, the latter of which included designation of eco- logical species groups, detailed landscape cross-sections showing slope and soil type, and vegetation diagrams.
Additional ecosystem classification and mapping of local landscape ecosys- tems was subsequently completed for the Huron Mountain Club Reserve Area (Simpson et al. 1990), the University of Michigan Biological Station (UMBS) (Lapin and Barnes 1995; Pearsall 1995; Pearsall et al. 1995; Zogg and Barnes 1995), the Mack Lake burn and associated glacial outwash plains of northern lower Michigan (Zou et al. 1992, Kashian and Barnes 2000, Kashian et al. 2003,
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FIGURE 1. Burt Barnes and graduate student Lloyd Simpson in the field using a sampling frame to quantify ground cover for landscape ecosystem sampling and mapping, 1981. Photo courtesy of the Burton V. Barnes estate.
Walker et al. 2003), and other areas (Figure 2). At the UMBS, three hierarchical scales of landscape ecosystems were mapped—major landforms, minor land- forms, and local ecosystem types. The UMBS landscape ecosystem team identi- fied 125 local ecosystem types (Figure 3); subsequent researchers have em-
FIGURE 2. Burt Barnes leads a discussion about landscape ecosystems in the field with land man- agers near Mio, Michigan, July 1996. Photo by Dan Kashian.
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FIGURE 3. Burt Barnes (right) with the field crew mapping landscape ecosystems at the University of Michigan Biological Station, 1991. Graduate students from left to right include Gregg Zogg, Doug Pearsall, Lance Cablk, and Joanne Constantinides. Photo by Sandy Beadle.
ployed the classification and maps developed for the UMBS landscape as a framework for studies of bird populations (Dietsch 1995), net aboveground pri- mary production (Dronova et al. 2011), and habitat distribution of small mam- mals (Sato 2007). Current researchers are studying the changes in plant commu- nity composition and diversity in multiple strata over a 25-year interval and assessing the influence of landform and ecological properties, including soil nu- trients and moisture, on the observed changes (Raleigh Ricart, pers. comm.).
After the first ecosystem mapping of local landscapes in the Upper Peninsula was completed, two of Burt’s other graduate students undertook large-scale land- scape ecosystem classification and developed a state-wide regionalization of Michigan in the 1980s. Shirley Denton analyzed and mapped thirty years of cli- matic data, and Dennis Albert synthesized bedrock geology, glacial geology, and soils; together they synthesized their analyses into a single regional landscape ecosystem classification and map (Albert et al. 1986) with descriptions of land- forms, soils, and vegetation for each large-scale ecosystem. Following the Michigan regionalization, Albert initiated a three-state ecoregional map and clas- sification in collaboration with the US Forest Service and the Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources (Albert 1995). In this three-state regionalization, Albert attributed details on bedrock and glacial geology, lake and stream characterization, forest or prairie type, and prevalent rare plants and animals to each map unit. An early draft of the three-state regionalization in-
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spired US Forest Service ecologists to revise Bailey’s broad-scale ecoregional map of the United States (Bailey 1983) to include finer sub-units (McNab and Avers 1994).
Burt participated regularly in all of these landscape ecosystem projects in re- connaissance and plot sampling and in the development of the maps and classifi- cations. We and other former graduate students fondly remember jointly discov- ering—and sometimes vigorously debating—the patterns of relationships among landforms, soils, and vegetation. Burt was ever sharp of mind, and he was pas- sionate about continual improvement in the concepts and products of our work, knowing that they would be used and tested by future researchers and managers.
An important advantage of the regional landscape ecosystem maps (Albert et al. 1986, Albert 1995) was their utilization for natural resource management and restoration decisions in Michigan. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality uses ecoregions as the basis for wetland mitigation; the Michigan Nat- ural Areas Program created a natural areas map that was overlain on ecoregions and made recommendations for additional dedications of natural areas and based native plant seed zones on ecoregional boundaries. The Nature Conservancy in Michigan (TNC) initiated a bioreserve protection program in the early 1990s in which the proposed bioreserves were identified within an ecoregional frame- work; inventories for the proposed bioreserves were conducted in the mid-1990s (Albert et al. 1995). The Michigan Natural Features Inventory and TNC initiated an ecoregional planning project in 1994 to identify and develop conservation strategies for ecologically important sites and to prepare inventories for them. Just before he retired from SNRE, Burt himself was engaged by TNC in 2005 to contribute to conservation planning for two regional landscape ecosystems in southeastern Michigan, and he then mentored a team of SNRE Master’s students working with TNC to develop a conservation plan for the Grayling Outwash Plains, an ecoregional subdistrict in northern Lower Michigan (Muladore et al. 2006). True to form, Burt participated in field reconnaissance and meetings with TNC and partners throughout these planning processes (Figure 4), and would be thrilled to know that public land managers including the US Forest Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Michigan DNR, as well as other conser- vation organizations, such as Huron Pines, continue to use the Grayling Outwash Conservation Plan to guide management and restoration decisions.
The use of a regional landscape ecosystem framework at a continental scale was fully embraced by TNC, which in the late 1990s had developed a system of ecoregions (The Nature Conservancy 1996) based strongly on the ecoregions de- veloped by Bailey for the US Forest Service (Bailey 1995), as well as on work by Olson and Dinerstein (1998) and Environment Canada (Wiken et al. 1989). Using this ecoregional framework, TNC has identified priority areas for biodi- versity conservation throughout North, Central, and South America and other re- gions. In other larger scale work in Michigan and other states, state-wide re- gional classifications were followed by more localized Land Type Association (LTA) mapping. LTA mapping delineates map units between the regional scale of the statewide maps and much smaller local units, providing a middle scale in the nested ecosystem hierarchy. Descriptions of the LTAs included information on original and current vegetation and on the associated rare plants and animals
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FIGURE 4. Burt Barnes and graduate students at a jack pine barren in northern Lower Michigan, May 2005. Left to right: Rebecca Schille, Burt Barnes, Stephanie Pendergrass, and Jennifer (Stover) Muladore. Burt advised a Master’s project that developed a conservation plan for the Grayling Out- wash Plains for The Nature Conservancy. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Muladore via University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment Flickr page under a Creative Commons At- tribution 2.0 Generic license; desaturated from original; original at www.flickr.com/photos/snre/ 14611740392/.
(Corner and Albert 1999a, 199b, 1999c, 1999d, 1999e, 1999f). The landscape ecosystem approach has not been limited to Michigan, nor have Burt and his stu- dents been the only practitioners to employ it. In Vermont, statewide LTA map- ping within the eight biophysical regions of the state was contracted to outside ecologists (Ferree and Thompson 2008) and was used in the state’s forest re- source planning (Vermont Forests, Parks and Recreation 2010). Also in Vermont, a landscape ecosystem approach was used in mapping and classifying lands of a large-landscape conservation project (Lapin and Engstrom 2002), and it aided in delineating state-land ecological reserve boundaries.
Burton V. Barnes has left a powerful legacy in his landscape ecosystem clas- sification and mapping work. Thousands of students were introduced to Burt’s rigorous method of integrating climate, physiography, soils, and vegetation to understand landscapes in a new way. Many went on to utilize landscape ecosys- tem theory and practice in their professional work, and many more encountered the approach through literature, professional meetings, or colleagues. In both di- rect and subtle ways, the impact of Burt’s teaching and research and the applica- tion of his multi-scale, multifactor landscape ecosystem classification have left
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an imprint on present and future generations in their understanding of the Earth’s ecosystems from local places to continental scales.
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