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Vegetation is an assemblage of
plant Plants are predominantly Photosynthesis, photosynthetic eukaryotes of the Kingdom (biology), kingdom Plantae. Historically, the plant kingdom encompassed all living things that were not animals, and included algae and fungi; however, all curr ...

plant
species and the
ground cover Groundcover or ground cover is any plant that grows over an area of ground. Groundcover provides soil protection, protection of the topsoil from erosion and drought. In an ecosystem, the ground cover forms the layer of vegetation below the shrub ...

ground cover
they provide. It is a general term, without specific reference to particular
taxa In biology, a taxon (back-formation from ''Taxonomy (biology), taxonomy''; plural taxa) is a group of one or more populations of an organism or organisms seen by taxonomists to form a unit. Although neither is required, a taxon is usually known ...
, life forms, structure, spatial extent, or any other specific
botanical Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the science of plant life and a branch of biology. A botanist, plant scientist or phytologist is a scientist who specialises in this field. The term "botany" comes from the Ancient Greek wo ...

botanical
or geographic characteristics. It is broader than the term ''
flora Flora is all the plant life present in a particular region or time, generally the naturally occurring (indigenous (ecology), indigenous) native plant, native plants. Sometimes bacteria and fungi are also referred to as flora, as in the terms '' ...
'' which refers to
species In biology, a species is the basic unit of Taxonomy (biology), classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which any two individuals of ...

species
composition. Perhaps the closest
synonym A synonym is a word, morpheme, or phrase In syntax and grammar, a phrase is a group of words or singular word acting as a grammatical unit. For instance, the English language, English expression "the very happy squirrel" is a noun phrase whi ...
is
plant community A plant community is a collection or association of plant species within a designated geographical unit, which forms a relatively uniform patch, distinguishable from neighboring patches of different vegetation type Vegetation classification is t ...
, but ''vegetation'' can, and often does, refer to a wider range of spatial scales than that term does, including scales as large as the global. Primeval redwood forests, coastal
mangrove A mangrove is a shrub or tree that grows in coastal saline water, saline or brackish water. The term is also used for tropical coastal vegetation consisting of such species. Mangroves are taxonomically diverse, as a result of convergent evoluti ...

mangrove
stands,
sphagnum bog A bog or bogland is a wetland that accumulates peat as a deposit of dead plant materials often mosses, typically sphagnum moss. It is one of the four main Wetland#Types, types of wetlands. Other names for bogs include mire, mosses, quagmire, ...
s,
desert A desert is a barren area of landscape where little precipitation occurs and, consequently, living conditions are hostile for plant and animal life. The lack of vegetation exposes the unprotected surface of the ground to denudation. About one ...

desert
soil crusts, roadside weed patches, wheat fields, cultivated
garden A garden is a planned space, usually outdoors, set aside for the cultivation, display, and enjoyment of plants and other forms of nature. The single feature identifying even the wildest wild garden is ''control''. The garden can incorporate bot ...

garden
s and lawns; all are encompassed by the term ''vegetation''. The
vegetation type Vegetation classification is the process of classifying and mapping the vegetation over an area of the earth's surface. Vegetation classification is often performed by state based agencies as part of land use, resource management, resource and envi ...
is defined by characteristic dominant species, or a common aspect of the assemblage, such as an elevation range or environmental commonality. The contemporary use of ''vegetation'' approximates that of ecologist Frederic Clements' term earth cover, an expression still used by the
Bureau of Land Management The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is an agency within the United States Department of the Interior responsible for administering federal lands. Headquartered in Washington DC, and with oversight over , it governs one eighth of the country's la ...
.


History of definition

The distinction between vegetation (the general appearance of a community) and
flora Flora is all the plant life present in a particular region or time, generally the naturally occurring (indigenous (ecology), indigenous) native plant, native plants. Sometimes bacteria and fungi are also referred to as flora, as in the terms '' ...

flora
(the taxonomic composition of a community) was first made by
Jules Thurmann
Jules Thurmann
(1849). Prior to this, the two terms (vegetation and flora) were used indiscriminately,Martins, F. R. & Batalha, M. A. (2011). Formas de vida, espectro biológico de Raunkiaer e fisionomia da vegetação. In: Felfili, J. M., Eisenlohr, P. V.; Fiuza de Melo, M. M. R.; Andrade, L. A.; Meira Neto, J. A. A. (Org.). ''Fitossociologia no Brasil: métodos e estudos de caso.'' Vol. 1. Viçosa: Editora UFV. p. 44-85. . Earlier version, 2003, . and still are in some contexts.
Augustin de Candolle Augustin Pyramus (or Pyrame) de Candolle (, , ; 4 February 17789 September 1841) was a Swiss Swiss may refer to: * the adjectival form of Switzerland *Swiss people Places *Swiss, Missouri *Swiss, North Carolina *Swiss, West Virginia *Swiss, ...
(1820) also made a similar distinction but he used the terms "station" (
habitat In ecology, the term habitat summarises the array of resources, physical and biotic factors that are present in an area, such as to support the survival and reproduction of a particular species. A species habitat can be seen as the physical ...

habitat
type) and "habitation" ( botanical region). Later, the concept of vegetation would influence the usage of the term
biome A biome () is a biogeographical unit consisting of a biological community (ecology), community that has formed in response to the physical environment in which they are found and a shared regional climate. Biomes may span more than one continent. ...
with the inclusion of the animal element.Coutinho, L. M. (2006). O conceito de bioma. ''Acta Bot. Bras.'' 20(1): 13-23, . Other concepts similar to vegetation are "
physiognomy Physiognomy (from the Greek Language, Greek , , meaning "nature", and , meaning "judge" or "interpreter") is the practice of assessing a person's character or personality from their outer appearance—especially the face. The term can also refer ...

physiognomy
of vegetation" ( Humboldt, 1805, 1807) and "formation" ( Grisebach, 1838, derived from "''Vegetationsform''",
Martius
Martius
, 1824). Departing from
Linnean taxonomy Linnaean taxonomy can mean either of two related concepts: # The particular form of biological classification In biology, taxonomy () is the science, scientific study of naming, defining (Circumscription (taxonomy), circumscribing) and cl ...
, Humboldt established a new science, dividing
plant geography Phytogeography (from Greek language, Greek φυτόν, ''phytón'' = "plant" and γεωγραφία, ''geographía'' = "geography" meaning also distribution) or botanical geography is the branch of biogeography that is concerned with the geographi ...
between taxonomists who studied plants as taxa and geographers who studied plants as vegetation. The physiognomic approach in the study of vegetation is common among biogeographers working on vegetation on a world scale, or when there is a lack of taxonomic knowledge of someplace (e.g., in the tropics, where biodiversity is commonly high).Beard J.S. (1978). The Physiognomic Approach. In: R. H. Whittaker (editor). ''Classification of Plant Communities'', pp 33-64

The concept of "
vegetation type Vegetation classification is the process of classifying and mapping the vegetation over an area of the earth's surface. Vegetation classification is often performed by state based agencies as part of land use, resource management, resource and envi ...
" is more ambiguous. The definition of a specific vegetation type may include not only physiognomy but also floristic and habitat aspects. Furthermore, the phytosociology, phytosociological approach in the study of vegetation relies upon a fundamental unit, the
plant association A plant community is a collection or Association (ecology), association of plant species within a designated geographical unit, which forms a relatively uniform patch, distinguishable from neighboring patches of different vegetation types. The comp ...
, which is defined upon flora. An influential, clear and simple classification scheme for types of vegetation was produced by
Wagner Wilhelm Richard Wagner ( ; ; 22 May 181313 February 1883) was a German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor who is chiefly known for his operas (or, as some of his mature works were later known, "music dramas"). Unlike most op ...
& von Sydow (1888).Wagner, H. & von Sydow, E. 1888. ''Sydow-Wagners methodischer Schulatlas''. Gotha: Perthes, . 23th (last) ed., 1944

.
Other important works with a physiognomic approach includes Grisebach (1872), Eugenius Warming, Warming (1895, 1909), Schimper (1898), Tansley and Chipp (1926), Rübel (1930), Burtt Davy (1938),
Beard A beard is the hair that grows on the jaw, chin, upper lip, lower lip, cheeks, and neck of humans and some non-human animals. In humans, usually pubescent or adult males are able to grow beards. Throughout the course of history, societal at ...
(1944, 1955), André Aubréville (1956, 1957), Trochain (1955, 1957), Küchler (1967), Ellenberg and Mueller-Dombois (1967) (see
vegetation classification Vegetation classification is the process of classifying and mapping the vegetation over an area of the earth's surface. Vegetation classification is often performed by state based agencies as part of land use, resource management, resource and envi ...
).


Classifications

There are many approaches for the classification of vegetation (physiognomy, flora, ecology, etc.).Mueller-Dombois, D. 1984. Classification and Mapping of Plant Communities: a Review with Emphasis on Tropical Vegetation. In: G. M. Woodwell (ed.) ''The Role of Terrestrial Vegetation in the Global Carbon Cycle: Measurement by Remote Sensing'', J. Wiley & Sons, New York, pp. 21-88, . Much of the work on vegetation classification comes from European and North American ecologists, and they have fundamentally different approaches. In North America, vegetation types are based on a combination of the following criteria: climate pattern, plant habit,
phenology Phenology is the study of periodic events in biological life cycle In biology Biology is the scientific study of life. It is a natural science with a broad scope but has several unifying themes that tie it together as a single, coherent ...

phenology
and/or growth form, and dominant species. In the current US standard (adopted by the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), and originally developed by
UNESCO The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a List of specialized agencies of the United Nations, specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) aimed at promoting world peace and security through international coope ...

UNESCO
and
The Nature Conservancy The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a global environmental organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. it works via affiliates or branches in 79 countries and territories, as well as across every state in the US. Founded in 1951, The Na ...
), the classification is
hierarchical A hierarchy (from Ancient Greek, Greek: , from , 'president of sacred rites') is an arrangement of items (objects, names, values, categories, etc.) that are represented as being "above", "below", or "at the same level as" one another. Hierarchy i ...

hierarchical
and incorporates the non-floristic criteria into the upper (most general) five levels and limited floristic criteria only into the lower (most specific) two levels. In Europe, classification often relies much more heavily, sometimes entirely, on floristic (species) composition alone, without explicit reference to climate, phenology or growth forms. It often emphasizes indicator or diagnostic species which may distinguish one classification from another. In the FGDC standard, the hierarchy levels, from most general to most specific, are: ''system, class, subclass, group, formation, alliance, ''and'' association''. The lowest level, or association, is thus the most precisely defined, and incorporates the names of the dominant one to three (usually two) species of a type. An example of a vegetation type defined at the level of class might be "''Forest, canopy cover > 60%''"; at the level of a formation as "''Winter-rain, broad-leaved, evergreen, sclerophyllous, closed-canopy forest''"; at the level of alliance as "''Arbutus menziesii'' forest"; and at the level of association as "''Arbutus menziesii-Lithocarpus dense flora'' forest", referring to Pacific madrone-tanoak forests which occur in California and Oregon, USA. In practice, the levels of the alliance and/or an association are the most often used, particularly in vegetation mapping, just as the Latin binomial is most often used in discussing particular species in taxonomy and in general communication.


Dynamics

Like all the biological systems, plant communities are temporally and spatially dynamic; they change at all possible scales. Dynamism in vegetation is defined primarily as changes in species composition and/or vegetation structure.


Temporal dynamics

Temporally, a large number of processes or events can cause change, but for sake of simplicity, they can be categorized roughly as either abrupt or gradual. Abrupt changes are generally referred to as disturbances; these include things like
wildfire A wildfire, forest fire, bushfire, wildland fire or rural fire is an unplanned, uncontrolled and unpredictable fire in an area of Combustibility and flammability, combustible vegetation. Depending on the type of vegetation present, a wildfire ...

wildfire
s, high
winds Wind is the natural movement of atmosphere of Earth, air or other gases relative to a planetary surface, planet's surface. Winds occur on a range of scales, from thunderstorm flows lasting tens of minutes, to local breezes generated by heating ...
,
landslide Landslides, also known as landslips, are several forms of mass wasting that may include a wide range of ground movements, such as rockfalls, deep-seated grade (slope), slope failures, mudflows, and debris flows. Landslides occur in a variety of ...

landslide
s,
flood A flood is an overflow of water (list of non-water floods, or rarely other fluids) that submerges land that is usually dry. In the sense of "flowing water", the word may also be applied to the inflow of the tide. Floods are an area of study o ...

flood
s,
avalanche An avalanche is a rapid flow of snow down a Grade (slope), slope, such as a hill or mountain. Avalanches can be set off spontaneously, by such factors as increased precipitation or snowpack weakening, or by external means such as humans, ani ...

avalanche
s and the like. Their causes are usually external ( exogenous) to the community—they are natural processes occurring (mostly) independently of the natural processes of the community (such as germination, growth, death, etc.). Such events can change vegetation structure and composition very quickly and for long time periods, and they can do so over large areas. Very few ecosystems are without some type of disturbance as a regular and recurring part of the long term
system A system is a group of interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, is described by its boundaries, structure and purpose and expres ...

system
dynamic.
Fire Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material (the fuel) in the exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction Product (chemistry), products. At a certain point in the combustion reaction, called the ignition ...

Fire
and wind disturbances are particularly common throughout many vegetation types worldwide. Fire is particularly potent because of its ability to destroy not only living plants, but also the seeds, spores, and living
meristem The meristem is a type of biological tissue, tissue found in plants. It consists of undifferentiated cells (meristematic cells) capable of mitosis, cell division. Cells in the meristem can develop into all the other tissues and organs that occur i ...
s representing the potential next generation, and because of fire's impact on fauna populations,
soil Soil, also commonly referred to as earth or dirt, is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organism In biology, an organism () is any life, living system that functions as an individual entity. All organi ...

soil
characteristics and other ecosystem elements and processes (for further discussion of this topic see
fire ecology Fire ecology is a scientific discipline concerned with natural processes involving fire in an ecosystem and the ecology, ecological effects, the interactions between fire and the abiotic and biotic components of an ecosystem, and the role as an ec ...
). Temporal change at a slower pace is ubiquitous; it comprises the field of
ecological succession Ecological succession is the process of change in the species structure of an community (ecology), ecological community over time. The time scale can be decades (for example, after a wildfire) or more or less. Bacteria allows for the cycling of ...
. Succession is the relatively gradual change in structure and taxonomic composition that arises as the vegetation itself modifies various environmental variables over time, including light, water and
nutrient A nutrient is a Chemical substance, substance used by an organism to survive, grow, and reproduce. The requirement for dietary nutrient intake applies to animals, plants, fungus, fungi, and protists. Nutrients can be incorporated into cells for me ...
levels. These modifications change the suite of species most adapted to grow, survive and reproduce in an area, causing floristic changes. These floristic changes contribute to structural changes that are inherent in plant growth even in the absence of species changes (especially where plants have a large maximum size, i.e. trees), causing slow and broadly predictable changes in the vegetation. Succession can be interrupted at any time by disturbance, setting the system either back to a previous state, or off on another
trajectory A trajectory or flight path is the path that an physical body, object with mass in Motion (physics), motion follows through space as a function of time. In classical mechanics, a trajectory is defined by Hamiltonian mechanics via canonical coo ...

trajectory
altogether. Because of this, successional processes may or may not lead to some static, final state. Moreover, accurately predicting the characteristics of such a state, even if it does arise, is not always possible. In short, vegetative communities are subject to many variables that together set limits on the predictability of future conditions.


Spatial dynamics

As a general rule, the larger an area under consideration, the more likely the vegetation will be heterogeneous across it. Two main factors are at work. First, the temporal dynamics of disturbance and succession are increasingly unlikely to be in synchrony across any area as the size of that area increases. That is, different areas will be at different developmental stages due to different local histories, particularly their times since last major disturbance. This fact interacts with inherent environmental variability (e.g. in soils, climate, topography, etc.), which is also a function of area. Environmental variability constrains the suite of species that can occupy a given area, and the two factors together interact to create a mosaic of vegetation conditions across the landscape. Only in
agricultural Agriculture or farming is the practice of cultivating Plant, plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of Sedentism, sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of Domestication, domesticated species created food ...

agricultural
or
horticultural Horticulture is the branch of agriculture that deals with the art, science, technology, and business of plant cultivation. It includes the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs, sprouts, mushrooms, algae, flowers, seaweeds and no ...
systems does vegetation ever approach perfect uniformity. In natural systems, there is always heterogeneity, although its scale and intensity will vary widely..


See also

* Biocoenosis *
Biome A biome () is a biogeographical unit consisting of a biological community (ecology), community that has formed in response to the physical environment in which they are found and a shared regional climate. Biomes may span more than one continent. ...
*
Ecological succession Ecological succession is the process of change in the species structure of an community (ecology), ecological community over time. The time scale can be decades (for example, after a wildfire) or more or less. Bacteria allows for the cycling of ...
*
Ecoregion An ecoregion (ecological region) or ecozone (ecological zone) is an ecology, ecologically and geographically defined area that is smaller than a bioregion, which in turn is smaller than a biogeographic realm. Ecoregions cover relatively large a ...
*
Ecosystem An ecosystem (or ecological system) consists of all the organisms and the physical environment with which they interact. These biotic and abiotic components are linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. Energy enters the syste ...

Ecosystem
* Plant cover *
Tropical vegetation Tropical vegetation is any vegetation in tropical latitudes. Plant life that occurs in climates that are warm year-round is in general more biologically diverse that in other latitudes. Some tropical areas may receive abundant rain the whole ye ...

Tropical vegetation
* Vegetation and slope stability


References


Further reading

* Archibold, O. W. ''Ecology of World Vegetation''. : Springer Publishing, 1994. * Barbour, M. G. and W. D. Billings (editors). ''North American Terrestrial Vegetation''.
Cambridge Cambridge ( ) is a College town, university city and the county town in Cambridgeshire, England. It is located on the River Cam approximately north of London. As of the 2021 United Kingdom census, the population of Cambridge was 145,700. Cam ...

Cambridge
:
Cambridge University Press Cambridge University Press is the university press of the University of Cambridge. Granted letters patent by Henry VIII of England, King Henry VIII in 1534, it is the oldest university press in the world. It is also the King's Printer. Cambr ...
, 1999. * Barbour, M.G, J.H. Burk, and W.D. Pitts. "Terrestrial Plant Ecology". Menlo Park: Benjamin Cummings, 1987. * Box, E. O. 1981. ''Macroclimate and Plant Forms: An Introduction to Predictive Modeling in Phytogeography. Tasks for Vegetation Science'', vol. 1. The Hague: Dr. W. Junk BV. 258 pp.
Macroclimate and Plant Forms: An Introduction to Predictive Modeling in Phytogeography
* Breckle, S-W. ''Walter's Vegetation of the Earth.'' New York: Springer Publishing, 2002. * Burrows, C. J. ''Processes of Vegetation Change''.
Oxford Oxford () is a city in England. It is the county town and only city of Oxfordshire. In 2020, its population was estimated at 151,584. It is north-west of London, south-east of Birmingham and north-east of Bristol. The city is home to the Un ...

Oxford
: Routledge Press, 1990. * Ellenberg, H. 1988. ''Vegetation ecology of central Europe''. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Vegetation Ecology of Central Europe
* Feldmeyer-Christie, E., N. E. Zimmerman, and S. Ghosh. ''Modern Approaches In Vegetation Monitoring''.
Budapest Budapest (, ; ) is the capital and most populous city of Hungary. It is the ninth-largest city in the European Union The European Union (EU) is a supranational union, supranational political union, political and economic union of ...

Budapest
: Akademiai Kiado, 2005. * Gleason, H.A. 1926. The individualistic concept of the plant association. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, 53:1-20. * Grime, J.P. 1987. ''Plant strategies and vegetation processes''. Wiley Interscience, New York NY. * Kabat, P., et al. (editors). ''Vegetation, Water, Humans and the Climate: A New Perspective on an Interactive System''.
Heidelberg Heidelberg (; Palatine German: ''Heidlberg'') is a city A city is a human settlement of notable size.Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kuper, J., eds (1996) ''The Social Science ...

Heidelberg
:
Springer-Verlag Springer Science+Business Media, commonly known as Springer, is a German multinational publishing company of books, e-books and peer-reviewed journals in science, humanities, technical and medical (STM) publishing. Originally founded in 1842 in ...
2004. * MacArthur, R.H. and E. O. Wilson. ''The theory of Island Biogeography''. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1967 * Mueller-Dombois, D., and H. Ellenberg. ''Aims and Methods of Vegetation Ecology.'' New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1974. The Blackburn Press, 2003 (reprint). * UNESCO. 1973. ''International Classification and Mapping of Vegetation''. Series 6, Ecology and Conservation, Paris

* Van der Maarel, E. ''Vegetation Ecology''. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2004. * Vankat, J. L. ''The Natural Vegetation of North America''. Krieger Publishing Co., 1992.


External links


Classification


Terrestrial Vegetation of the United States Volume I – The National Vegetation Classification System: Development, Status, and Applications
(PDF)
Federal Geographic Data Committee Vegetation Subcommittee

Vegetation Classification Standard
GDC-STD-005, June 1997(PDF)
Classifying Vegetation Condition: Vegetation Assets States and Transitions (VAST)


Mapping-related




USGS - NPS Vegetation Mapping Program



VEGETATION image processing and archiving centre at VITO

Spot-VEGETATION programme web page


Climate diagrams




ClimateDiagrams.com
Provides climate diagrams for more than 3000 weather stations and for different climate periods from all over the world. Users can also create their own diagrams with their own data.

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