Question: How does a newly designed method of supervised clustering perform in the assignment of relevé (species composition) data to a previously established classification. How do the results compare to the assignment by experts and to the assignment using a completely different numerical method?
Material: Relevés analysed represent 4186 Czech grassland plots and 4990 plots from a wide variety of vegetation types (359 different associations or basal communities) in The Netherlands. For both data sets we had at our disposal an expert classification, and for the Czech data we also had available a numerical classification as well as a classification based on a neural network method (multi-layer perceptron).
Methods: Two distance indices, one qualitative and one quantitative, are combined into a single index by weighted multiplication. The composite index is a distance index for the dissimilarity between relevés and vegetation types. For both data sets the classifications by the new method were compared with the existing classifications.
Results: For the Czech grasslands we correctly classified 81% of the plots to the classes of an expert classification at the alliance level and 71% to the classes of the numerical classification. Correct classification rates for the Dutch relevés were 64, 78 and 83 % for the lowest (subassociation or association), association, and alliance level, respectively.
Conclusion: Our method performs well in assigning community composition records to previously established classes. Its performance is comparable to the performance of other methods of supervised clustering. Compared with a multi-layer perceptron (a type of artificial neural network), fewer parameters have to be estimated. Our method does not need the original relevé data for the types, but uses synoptic tables. Another practical advantage is the provision of directly interpretable information on the contributions of separate species to the result.