Digital mapping of ecological land units using a nationally scalable modeling framework

TitleDigital mapping of ecological land units using a nationally scalable modeling framework
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsMaynard J, Nauman T, Salley S.W., Bestelmeyer BT, Duniway MC, Talbot C, Brown J.
JournalSoil Science Society of America Journal
Start Page666
Date Published06/2019
ARIS Log Number357778

Ecological site descriptions (ESDs) and associated state-and-transition models (STMs) provide a nationally consistent classification and information system for defining ecological land units for management applications in the U.S. Current spatial representations of ESDs, however, occur via soil mapping and are therefore confined to the spatial resolution used to map soils within a survey area.  Land management decisions occur across a range of spatial scales and therefore require ecological information that spans similar scales. Digital mapping provides an approach for optimizing the spatial scale of modeling products to best serve decision makers and have the greatest impact in addressing land management concerns. Here we present a spatial modeling framework for mapping ecological sites using machine learning algorithms, soil survey field observations, soil survey geographic databases, ecological site data, and a suite of remote sensing-based spatial covariates (e.g., hyper-temporal remote sensing, terrain attributes, climate data, land-cover, lithology). Based upon the theoretical association between ecological sites and landscape biophysical properties, we hypothesized that the spatial distribution of ecological sites could be predicted using readily available geospatial data. This modeling approach was tested at two study areas within the western U.S., representing 6.1 million ha on the Colorado Plateau and 7.5 million ha within the Chihuahuan Desert. Results show our approach was effective in mapping grouped ecological site classes (ESGs), with a 70% correct classification based on 1,405 point observations across 8 expertly-defined ESG classes in the Colorado Plateau and a 79% correct classification based on 2,589 point observations across 9 expertly-defined ESG classes in the Chihuahuan Desert. National coverage of the training and covariate data used in this study provides opportunities for a consistent national-scale mapping effort of ecological sites.