Vegetation classifications are performed with three fundamental goals: (1) delimiting and naming parts of the vegetation continuum to enable communication about them; (2) predicting a multitude of ecosystem attributes (e.g., species composition, site conditions, and ecological processes) from the assignment of a particular stand to a vegetation unit; and (3) making multi-species co-occurrence patterns representable by verbal descriptions, tables, diagrams, and maps. Floristically defined vegetation types are thus suitable reference entities for ecological research, bioindication, and nature conservation.
Reaching these aims requires of the classification approach:
1. coherence of units with respect to major ecosystem properties;
2. simple and clear discernability of units;
3. completeness of the system (i.e., coverage of all vegetation types of the given area);
4. robustness (i.e., minor changes of the data should not considerably change the classification);
5. tolerance against varying data quality;
6. supra-regional applicability;
7. applicability for a range of different purposes;
8. hierarchical structure, allowing for different degrees of generalization;
9. equivalence of units of the same hierarchical level; and 10. adequate number of units with respect to practical use.
As no single classification can ideally meet all of these criteria at the same time, and their relative importance depends on the purposes, competing classifications of the same objects and data are a reality. Thus, the interpretation of local data will change with scaling up from local to regional and supra-regional context. However, there is also a practical requirement to have a unified supraregional classification to enable communication among scientists, managers, and authorities between regions.
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