New Zealand scientists have developed a new system to map the world’s vegetation, which might help track the progress of climate change in future, University of Otago researchers said on Monday.

The system used satellite observations of the timing and intensity of activity in large-scale vegetation formations –known as biomes — and how it relates to temperature and soil moisture to classify the world’s vegetation into 24 biome types, Xinhua news agency quoted from a statement as saying.

Several other global biome maps existed but the new system was objective and not reliant on expert opinion or correlations between vegetation and climate, a statement said.

The system was important for comparing the behaviour of ecosystems in different parts of the world, which was essential for understanding the drivers of ecosystem dynamics and how ecosystems might respond to change.

They used their new classification scheme to examine change in biomes over time and found that 13 per cent of the Earth’s land surface changed its biome state over the last three decades.

"This suggests that substantial shifts in the character of the Earth’s surface are under way," Botany Professor Steven Higgins said.

"Future studies could use this system to monitor biome change and attribute the causes of the change," he said.