Ecological land classification
Learn how we classify and describe ecosystems to help manage Ontario’s natural resources and guide ecosystem-based planning.
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How we use ecological land classification
Ecological land classification (PDF) describes ecosystems using geology, climate, vegetation, terrain and soil. It supports:
- Crown and private land use planning decision making
- descriptions of Ontario’s rare and unique plant communities
- forest management planning in Ontario
- identifying natural heritage systems and features in Ontario, including Significant Wildlife Habitat, Significant Woodlands, and Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest
- Ontario’s spatial inventory of landscape features for Far North Land Cover (FNLC), Forest Resources Inventory (FRI) and the Southern Ontario Land Resource Information System (SOLRIS)
Ecological land classification units
Ontario’s ecological land classification system has six units. From largest to smallest they are:
Ecozones are the largest of Ontario’s ecological land classification units.
Ecozones are defined by broad climate patterns and the type of underlying bedrock, which influence ecosystem processes and the plants and animals that can occur.
Ecozones are used for reporting the status and trends of:
For more information about ecozones read The ecosystems of Ontario — Part 1: ecozones and ecoregions.
Each ecozone contains many ecoregions.
Ecoregions are defined by patterns in temperature, precipitation, humidity and other climate variables.
We use ecoregions to:
- identify and assess significant wildlife habitat
- report on the status and trends of forest cover and disturbance
For more information about ecoregions read The ecosystems of Ontario — Part 1: ecozones and ecoregions.
Ecoregions are further subdivided into ecodistricts.
Ecodistricts are defined based on bedrock and topography. This determines local vegetation and habitats in each ecodistrict.
Ecodistricts are used to:
- develop natural heritage systems in municipalities
- identify ecological representation
- report on changes to total area of wetlands
For more information about ecodistricts read The ecosystems of Ontario — Part 2: ecodistricts.
Ecosections are smaller than ecodistricts.
Ecosections are defined based on patterns in slope, landforms, soil texture and soil moisture. Examples of ecosections include:
- drumlin fields
- lake plains
Ecosections have not been developed or used in Ontario.
Ecosites are smaller than ecosections.
Ecosites are based mainly on physical features that influence what plant species are present, including:
Each ecosite has a dominant vegetation type and substrate type. Examples of ecosites include:
- active sand dune
- rock barren
- sugar maple hardwood
Ecosites are used by sustainable forest license holders, resource managers, municipalities and conservation authorities for:
- land use planning
- sustainable forest management
- wildlife habitat management
You can access mapping through:
Ecoelements are the smallest of Ontario’s land classification units. Ecosites contain many ecoelements. Each ecoelement has a single type:
Ecoelements are used to understand the composition of ecosites and to support fine scale planning in southern Ontario.
Vegetation types (V-types)
Vegetation types are recurring groups of plants that grow in similar conditions. Ecologists use them to describe ecosystems. An example of a vegetation type is black spruce — feathermoss forest.
Substrate types (S-types)
Substrate types are the materials that plant species grow in. Ecologists define substrate types based on the:
- amount of water in the soil
- depth of the soil
- texture of the soil
An example of a substrate type is moderate depth, sandy coarse texture and moist.