How we use ecological land classification

Ecological land classification (PDF) describes ecosystems using geology, climate, vegetation, terrain and soil. It supports:

Ecological land classification units

Ontario’s ecological land classification system has six units. From largest to smallest they are:

  • ecozones
  • ecoregions
  • ecodistricts
  • ecosections
  • ecosites
  • ecoelements
Figure 1 shows the six ecological land classification units. From largest to smallest they are ecozones, ecoregions, ecodistricts, ecosections, ecosites, and ecoelements.
Figure 1. The six ecological land classification units. Each unit contains many smaller units. For example, each ecoregion contains many ecodistricts.


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.

View a map or download the boundaries of Ontario’s ecozones.


Each ecozone contains many ecoregions.

Ecoregions are defined by patterns in temperature, precipitation, humidity and other climate variables.

We use ecoregions to:

For more information about ecoregions read The ecosystems of Ontario — Part 1: ecozones and ecoregions.

View a map or download the boundaries of Ontario’s 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:

For more information about ecodistricts read The ecosystems of Ontario — Part 2: ecodistricts.

View a map or download the boundaries of Ontario’s 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:

  • moisture
  • slope
  • soils

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:

  • substrate
  • vegetation

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.


Ecological Land Classification Primer 2007 (PDF)