Terrestrial ecosystems and vegetation of Africa were classified and mapped as part of a larger effort and global protocol (GEOSS – the Global Earth Observation System of Systems), which includes an activity to map terrestrial ecosystems of the earth in a standardized, robust, and practical manner, and at the finest possible spatial resolution. To model the potential distribution of ecosystems, new continental datasets for several key physical environment datalayers (including coastline, landforms, surficial lithology, and bioclimates) were developed at spatial and classification resolutions finer than existing similar datalayers. A hierarchical vegetation classification was developed by African ecosystem scientists and vegetation geographers, who also provided sample locations of the newly classified vegetation units. The vegetation types and ecosystems were then mapped across the continent using a classification and regression tree (CART) inductive model, which predicted the potential distribution of vegetation types from a suite of biophysical environmental attributes including bioclimate region, biogeographic region, surficial lithology, landform, elevation and land cover. Multi-scale ecosystems were classified and mapped in an increasingly detailed hierarchical framework using vegetation-based concepts of class, subclass, formation, division, and macrogroup levels. The finest vegetation units (macrogroups) classified and mapped in this effort are defined using diagnostic plant species and diagnostic growth forms that reflect biogeographic differences in composition and sub-continental to regional differences in mesoclimate, geology, substrates, hydrology, and disturbance regimes (FGDC, 2008). The macrogroups are regarded as meso-scale (100s to 10,000s of hectares) ecosystems. A total of 126 macrogroup types were mapped, each with multiple, repeating occurrences on the landscape. The modeling effort was implemented at a base spatial resolution of 90 m. In addition to creating several rich, new continent-wide biophysical datalayers describing African vegetation and ecosystems, our intention was to explore feasible approaches to rapidly moving this type of standardized, continent-wide, ecosystem classification and mapping effort forward.
Additional publication details
A new map of standardized terrestrial ecosystems of Africa