A review of the influence of marine habitat classification schemes on mapping studies: inherent assumptions, influence on end products, and suggestions for future developments
The production of marine habitat maps typically relies on the use of habitat classification schemes (HCSs). The choice of which HCS to use for a mapping study is often related to familiarity, established practice, and national desires. Despite a superficial similarity, HCSs differ greatly across six key properties, namely, purpose, environmental and ecological scope, spatial scale, thematic resolution, structure, and compatibility with mapping techniques. These properties impart specific strengths and weaknesses for each HCS, which are subsequently transferred to the habitat maps applying these schemes. This review has examined seven HCSs (that are commonly used and widely adopted for national and international mapping programmes), over the six properties, to understand their influence on marine habitat mapping. In addition, variation in how mappers interpret and apply HCSs introduces additional uncertainties and biases into the final maps. Recommendations are provided for improving HCSs for marine habitat mapping as well as for enhancing the working practices of mappers using habitat classification. It is hoped that implementation of these recommendations will lead to greater certainty and usage within mapping studies and more consistency between studies and adjoining maps.