Questions: How similar are solutions of eight commonly used vegetation classification methods? Which classification methods are most effective according to classification validity evaluators? How do evaluators with different optimality criteria differ in their assessments of classification efficacy? In particular, do evaluators which use geometric criteria (e.g. cluster compactness) and non-geometric evaluators (which rely on diagnostic species) offer similar classification evaluations?
Methods: We analysed classifications of two vegetation datasets produced by eight classification methods. Classification solutions were assessed with five geometric and four non-geometric internal evaluators. We formally introduce three new evaluators: PARTANA, an intuitive variation on evaluators which use the ratio of within/between cluster dissimilarity as the optimality criterion, an adaptation of Morisita's index of niche overlap, and ISAMIC, an algorithm which measures the degree to which species are either always present or always absent within clusters.
Results and Conclusions: 1. With the exception of single linkage hierarchical clustering, classifications resulting from the eight methods were often similar. 2. Although evaluators varied in their assessment of best overall classification method, they generally favored three hierarchical agglomerative clustering strategies: flexible beta (β = − 0.25), average linkage, and Ward's linkage. 3. Among introduced evaluators PARTANA appears to be an effective geometric strategy which provides assessments similar to C-index and Gamma evaluators. Non-geometric evaluators ISAMIC and Morisita's index demonstrate a strong bias for single linkage solutions. 4. Because non-geometric criteria are of interest to phytosociologists there is a strong need for their continued development for use with vegetation classifications.