A Discriminant Analysis Model of Alaskan Biomes Based on Spatial Climatic and Environmental Data

  • James J. Simpson
  • Michael C. Stuart
  • Christopher Daly
Keywords: Arctic, Alaska, biome, vegetation, climate, climatic transition zones, classification, discriminant analysis, fires, climographs, boreal forest, coastal rain forest, alpine tundra, shrublands, Arctic tundra, ecotone


Classification of high-latitude landscapes into their appropriate biomes is important for many climate and global change-related issues. Unfortunately, large-scale, high-spatial-resolution observations of plant assemblages associated with these regions are generally unavailable, so accurate modeling of plant assemblages and biome boundaries is often needed. We built different discriminant analysis models and used them to “convert” various combinations of spatial climatic data (surface temperature and precipitation) and spatial environmental data (topography, soil, permafrost) into a biome-level map of Alaska. Five biomes (alpine tundra and ice fi elds, Arctic tundra, shrublands, boreal forest, and coastal rainforest) and one biome transition zone are modeled. Mean annual values of climatic variables were less useful than their annual extrema in this context. A quadratic discriminant analysis, combined with climate, topography, permafrost, and soil information, produced the most accurate Alaskan biome classification (skill = 74% when compared to independent data). The multivariate alteration detection transformation was used to identify Climatic Transition Zones (CTZs) with large interannual variability, and hence, less climatic consistency than other parts of Alaska. Biome classification was the least accurate in the CTZs, leading to the conclusion that large interannual climatic variability does not favor a unique biome. We interpret the CTZs as “transition biome areas” or ecotones between the five “core biomes” cited above. Both disturbance events (e.g., fires and subsequent plant succession sequences) and the partial intersection of the environmental variables used to characterize Alaskan biomes further complicate biome classification. Alaskan results obtained from the data-driven quadratic discriminant model compare favorably (based on Kappa statistics) with those produced by an equilibrium-based biome model for regions of Canada ecologically similar to the biomes we studied in Alaska. Climatic statistics are provided for each biome studied.