Phytosociology is a subset of vegetation science, in which it stands out by focusing on extant (vs. fossil), taxonomic (vs. physiognomic or functional) plant assemblages at the scale of vegetation stands (vs. landscapes or biomes). Its principal goal is the definition and functional characterization of vegetation types based on the total floristic composition of stands. Phytosociology distinguishes between concrete vegetation stand (phytocoenosis), which can be represented by a plot record (releve), and abstract vegetation type (syntaxon), representing a group of all stands sharing certain attributes. The classification framework (syntaxonomy) is designed in close analogy to plant taxonomy, with association as the basic unit.
The fundamental concepts of phytosociology were developed by Josias Braun-Blanquet in the 1920s. He combined a standardized protocol for plot sampling, sorting of species-by-plot matrices, demarcation of community types, and their hierarchical ordering into a practical and efficient framework for the study ofvegeta-tion. In this article, we use the term phytosociology for the Braun-Blanquet approach and its modern extensions.
Phytosociology is the mainstream vegetation classification scheme in Europe, as well as in several countries outside Europe, and has become increasingly popular worldwide from the 1990s onward. Within modern ecology, phytosociology represents the most comprehensive and consistent methodology for vegetation classification. Releves are the most widely used standardized protocol for sampling plant species co-occurrences at the stand scale. Being derived from the vast body of releve data, syntaxonomy provides a comprehensive yet open system of vegetation types, which are indispensable in land-use management and nature conservation. Consisting of abundance data on individual plant species, releves and vegetation types organized in large phytosociological databases are an enormous source of fine-scale biodiversity information. If linked to the growing body of plant trait or indicator value data or environmental information in geographical information systems (GISs), phyto-sociological data open new avenues for exploring large-scale ecological patterns and processes, and provide spatially explicit information necessary for environmental management.
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