Digital land-cover data are among the most popular data sources used in ecological research and natural resource management. However, processes for accurate land-cover classification over large regions are still evolving. We identified inconsistencies in the National Land Cover Dataset 1992, the most current and available representation of land cover for the conterminous United States. We also report means to address these inconsistencies in a bird-habitat model. We used a Geographic Information System (GIS) to position a regular grid (or lattice) over the upper midwestern United States and summarized the proportion of individual land covers in each cell within the lattice. These proportions were then mapped back onto the lattice, and the resultant lattice was compared to satellite paths, state borders, and regional map classification units. We observed mapping inconsistencies at the borders between mapping regions, states, and Thematic Mapper (TM) mapping paths in the upper midwestern United States, particularly related to grass I and-herbaceous, emergent-herbaceous wetland, and small-grain land covers. We attributed these discrepancies to differences in image dates between mapping regions, suboptimal image dates for distinguishing certain land-cover types, lack of suitable ancillary data for improving discrimination for rare land covers, and possibly differences among image interpreters. To overcome these inconsistencies for the purpose of modeling regional populations of birds, we combined grassland-herbaceous and pasture-hay land-cover classes and excluded the use of emergent-herbaceous and small-grain land covers. We recommend that users of digital land-cover data conduct similar assessments for other regions before using these data for habitat evaluation. Further, caution is advised in using these data in the analysis of regional land-cover change because it is not likely that future digital land-cover maps will repeat the same problems, thus resulting in biased estimates of change.
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Commentary: A cautionary tale regarding use of the National Land Cover Dataset 1992