U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


Date of this Version



Published in J. Environ. Qual. 32:550–561 (2003).


Researchers have defined and mapped ecological regions of the United States based on similar patterns of ecosystems such as deserts, forests, and croplands. These studies are useful in regional research, monitoring, and environmental management because data can be more readily extrapolated within the same ecoregion and to regions with similar characteristics. The description of ecoregions is largely holistic and qualitative. Conversely, quantitative information for soil are abundant and soil is an important ecosystem component related to many ecoregion properties. We used the nationwide State Soil Geographic database(STATSGO) to describe the soils of 84 Level III ecoregions in the United States. Among the 24 soil characteristics studied were texture, rock fragments, available water capacity, bulk density, and organic matter content. For each ecoregion we developed ranks to describe (i) its similarity to the U.S. average soil characteristics, (ii) the accuracy of predicting those characteristics, (iii) how well the soil map unit boundaries fit within ecoregion boundaries, (iv) the spatial relationship of soils across neighboring ecoregion boundaries, and (v) the homogeneity of texture-rock patterns. We present a national map of soil texture and rock fragments and five soil ranks for each ecoregion, and examine relationship between soils and other ecological components for selected ecoregions. Because soils relate to other ecosystem components such as vegetation, geology, and land use, the soil ranks complement and enrich the qualitative ecoregion descriptions. Similar analyses of physical or biological components of ecoregions will expand the understanding of the ecosystem patterns.