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A Generic, Computer-assisted Method for Rapid Vegetation Classification and Survey: Tropical and Temperate Case Studies

Andrew N Gillison, Center for Biodiversity Management


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Standard methods of vegetation classification and survey tend to be either too broad for management purposes or too reliant on local species to support inter-regional comparisons. A new approach to this problem uses species-independent plant functional types with a wide spectrum of environmental sensitivity. By means of a rule set, plant functional types can be constructed according to specific combinations from within a generic set of 35 adaptive, morphological plant functional attributes. Each combination assumes that a vascular plant individual can be described as a "coherent" functional unit. When used together with vegetation structure, plant functional types facilitate rapid vegetation assessment that complements species-based data and makes possible uniform comparisons of vegetation response to environmental change within and between countries. Recently developed user-friendly software (VegClass) facilitates data entry and the analysis of biophysical field records from a standardized, rapid, survey pro forma. Case studies are presented at a variety of spatial scales and for vegetation types ranging from species-poor arctic tundra to intensive, multitaxa, baseline biodiversity assessments in complex, humid tropical forests. These demonstrate how such data can be rapidly acquired, analyzed, and communicated to conservation managers. Sample databases are linked to downloadable software and a training manual.

Key words

VegClass software, gradsects, plant functional attributes, plant functional types, rapid biodiversity assessment, vegetation classification, vegetation survey

Copyright © 2002 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087