Effectiveness of environmental cluster analysis in representing regional species diversity

Ana Trakhtenbrot*, Ronen Kadmon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


A major challenge of regional conservation planning is the identification of sets of sites that together represent the overall biodiversity of the relevant region. Environmental cluster analysis (ECA) has been proposed as a potential tool for efficient selection of conservation sites, but the consequences of methodological decisions involved in its application have not been tested so far. We evaluated the performance of ECA with respect to two such decisions: the choice of the clustering algorithm (single linkage, complete linkage, unweighted arithmetic average, unweighted centroid, Ward's minimum variance, and the ALOC algorithm) and the weight given to different groups of environmental variables (rainfall, temperature, and lithology). Specifically we tested how these decisions affect the spatial configuration of clusters of sites defined by the ECA, whether and how they affect the effectiveness of the ECA (i.e., its ability to represent regional species diversity), and whether the effectiveness of alternative methods of hierarchical clustering can be predicted a priori based on the cophenetic correlation. We used an extensive database of the flora of Israel to test these questions. Differences in both the clustering algorithm and the weighting regime had considerable effects on the spatial configuration of the ECA clusters. The single-linkage algorithm produced mostly single-cell clusters plus a single large-sized cluster and was therefore found inappropriate for environmental regionalization. The effectiveness of the ECA was also sensitive to changes in the clustering algorithm and the weighting regime. Yet, most combinations of clustering algorithms and weighting regimes performed significantly better in capturing regional biodiversity than random null models. The main deviation was classifications based on Ward's minimum variance algorithm, which performed less well relative to all other algorithms. The two algorithms that showed the highest effectiveness (unweighted average and unweighted centroid clustering) also exhibited the highest values of the cophenetic correlation, suggesting that this index may serve as a potential indicator for the effectiveness of alternative ECA algorithms.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1087-1098
Number of pages12
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2006


  • Biodiversity
  • Complementarity
  • Cophenetic correlation
  • Environmental surrogates
  • Regional conservation planning
  • Reserve selection
  • Species distribution


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