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Boulder City, CO, United States

Faber-Langendoen D.,NatureServe | Keeler-Wolf T.,Biogeographic Data Branch | Meidinger D.,British Columbia Ministry of forests | Tart D.,U.S. Department of Agriculture | And 7 more authors.
Ecological Monographs

A vegetation classification approach is needed that can describe the diversity of terrestrial ecosystems and their transformations over large time frames, span the full range of spatial and geographic scales across the globe, and provide knowledge of reference conditions and current states of ecosystems required to make decisions about conservation and resource management. We summarize the scientific basis for EcoVeg, a physiognomic-floristic-ecological classification approach that applies to existing vegetation, both cultural (planted and dominated by human processes) and natural (spontaneously formed and dominated by nonhuman ecological processes). The classification is based on a set of vegetation criteria, including physiognomy (growth forms, structure) and floristics (compositional similarity and characteristic species combinations), in conjunction with ecological characteristics, including site factors, disturbance, bioclimate, and biogeography. For natural vegetation, the rationale for the upper levels (formation types) is based on the relation between global-scale vegetation patterns and macroclimate, hydrology, and substrate. The rationale for the middle levels is based on scaling from regional formations (divisions) to regional floristic-physiognomic types (macrogroup and group) that respond to meso-scale biogeographic, climatic, disturbance, and site factors. Finally, the lower levels (alliance and association) are defined by detailed floristic composition that responds to local to regional topo-edaphic and disturbance gradients. For cultural vegetation, the rationale is similar, but types are based on distinctive vegetation physiognomy and floristics that reflect human activities. The hierarchy provides a structure that organizes regional/continental vegetation patterns in the context of global patterns. A formal nomenclature is provided, along with a descriptive template that provides the differentiating criteria for each type at all levels of the hierarchy. Formation types have been described for the globe; divisions and macrogroups for North America, Latin America and Africa; groups, alliances and associations for the United States, parts of Canada, Latin America and, in partnership with other classifications that share these levels, many other parts of the globe. © 2014 by the Ecological Society of America. Source

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