Canadian Forest Ecosystem Classification

One of Canada’s commitments arising from the Convention on Biological Diversity was the creation of a national classification of forest ecosystems, for use when monitoring criteria and indicators of biodiversity conservation, forest health and sustainable development.

Work began on the Canadian Forest Ecosystem Classification (CFEC) in 2000, and is being conducted through a broad partnership of governmental and non-governmental agencies, coordinated by Natural Resources Canada–Canadian Forest Service.

Crossing boundaries

Part of the broader Canadian National Vegetation Classification (CNVC), which classifies all vegetation in Canada, the CFEC uses standardized classification criteria and nomenclature to describe forest and woodland vegetation communities. The immediate goal is to bring together more than 4,000 existing provincial and territorial forest types into a common national classification that will allow direct comparisons across jurisdictional boundaries.

Ecologists are also working closely with their U.S. counterparts to ensure compatibility between the CFEC and the U.S. National Vegetation Classification. This will allow them to have a common reference in their discussions about ecosystems that extend across the international border.

How it works

The CFEC vegetation types (called associations) are defined and described in terms of vegetation characteristics that represent fine-scale variations in regional climate, site-specific moisture and nutrient regimes, and underlying ecological processes.

Provincial and territorial field plot data of soil, site and vegetation characteristics are reviewed and compared with the ecological classifications that currently exist for each jurisdiction. The existing classification systems may be updated to make them more compatible with the CFEC. Each local classification unit is then assigned to a national CFEC association, thus linking it into the Canadian system.

Ultimately, the CFEC will produce a catalogue of approximately 1,000 standardized forest and woodland associations, each described in a factsheet using a common CNVC format. The factsheet provides a summary of the ecological attributes of the association, including information on community structure, plant species characteristics, habitat, biogeographic distribution, and ecological process relationships.

This information will reside in a national database that will link to nationally and regionally mapped ecological products, such as the ecozones and ecoregions outlined in the National Ecological Framework for Canada and provincial ecological classifications, and national collections of information such as the National Forest Inventory.

How it will be used

When completed, the CFEC will have a wide range of uses, including:

  • identifying habitat for the development of conservation and protection strategies
  • describing successional changes in forest composition and structure after natural and human disturbances, including the influences of climate change
  • linking field-collected information about ecosystems to information gathered by remote sensing technologies at multiple scales.

As a consistent framework for applying ecological knowledge of Canadian forests and woodlands to monitoring, research and reporting activities, the CFEC is essential for extrapolating information from local to regional, national and global scales. It will help to establish Canada as a world leader in the application of ecosystem classification for sustainable forest management, including both timber and non-timber values.