Ministry of Environment


Broad Ecosystem Inventory Home

Broad Ecosystem Inventory (BEI) is a method of classifying and mapping broad ecosystem habitats, their suitability (existing productivity with present vegetation) and capability (potential productivity with optimal vegetation for a species) of the land to support various wildlife species. British Columbia’s unique ecological diversity means habitats can vary dramatically over short distances, usually through interrelationships of topography, climate and soils. Understanding these relationships requires a multidisciplinary approach that can be interpreted for wildlife, range, agriculture, forestry or industrial development.


The hierarchy used for BEI biophysical classification and mapping includes Ecoregions, Biogeoclimatic Units (zonation) and Ecosystem Units.
Ecoregions are broad, provincial scale ecological units based on climatic processes, physiography and broad animal and plant distribution.
Biogeoclimatic Units, as defined by the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, provide a climatic framework for mapping plant community distribution. These units are subdivided into four levels - zone, subzone, variant and phase.
Ecosystem Units are based on the integration of vegetation, terrain (surficial material), topography and soil characteristics.

This detailed ecosystem approach emphasizes those site characteristics that determine the function and distribution of plant communities in the landscape. Ecosystem Units are generalized from the site series classification within the Biogeoclimatic Ecosystem Classification (BEC). Additional components (site modifiers, structural stages and seral associations) are used to further define relatively homogeneous ecosystem units. There is a strong emphasis on physical attributes, succession, and climax vegetation, as present and potential animal habitat use is strongly reflected by these attributes.

When a mapping project is requested, an ecosystem mapping specialist, usually a vegetation ecologist, maps the basic physical and biological elements that form broad ecosystem units on mylar overlays. They require the appropriate basemap information showing lakes, major rivers, ecosection and biogeoclimatic classifications. Major subdivisions such as slope and aspect changes can be delineated at this stage. The basemap is overlain onto satellite photos so that broad ecosystem units can be delineated. Occasionally, air photos are used to supplement information that may not be provided by satellite imagery.

The broad ecosystem classification system is a hierarchical approach where each broad ecosystem unit is subdivided into more detailed parameters. The ecosections are the broadest unit at this scale of mapping. Within the ecosections are biogeoclimatic units which integrate climatic, vegetation and site classifications at a regional level. The broad ecosystem unit is the smallest unit at this scale and is nested within the biogeoclimatic unit which in turn is nested within the ecosection unit.

Standards & Methodology



  • Technical Standards (Under review)
  • Data Base Requirements (1997)

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