The conservation of species depends on the maintenance of their habitats. Habitat classifications can be founded on structural or abiotic features, but they are often based on syntaxa, conveying a summary of ecosystem properties that are difficult to measure or model. Preserving the diversity of extant plant communities is thought to safeguard the survival of typical species not only of plants, but also of animals, fungi, and microorganisms, and the maintenance of current ecosystem processes.
In Europe, phytosociological units were important in defining habitats (biotopes) in the CORINE and EUNIS systems, which contain a comprehensive classification of European habitats. The CORINE classification provided the basis for inclusion of habitat types under the Habitats Directive of the European Union, the most powerful legislative instrument for nature conservation in Europe. In the Union-wide conservation network Natura 2000, phytosociologically defined habitat types are crucial for the delimitation, inventory, monitoring, and management of protected areas.
In landscape planning and policy making, phytosocio-logical units are used to underpin normative judgments and set conservation priorities by evaluating their naturalness and endangerment. Naturalness, or its reciprocal concept, hemeroby, ranks communities by the strength of human influence and consequent alterations of species composition, structure, and ecological processes. Methodologies range from assigning community types to classes of naturalness to complex evaluation schemes taking detailed account of community features.
Reporting the degree of threat to the habitats of a region, red lists of plant communities are another potentially powerful policy tool in nature conservation. Compilation of red lists presupposes a comprehensive and well-established phytosociological classification for the target region, including detailed knowledge about distribution, commonness, and temporal trends of syn-taxa. With the advent of phytosociological databanks and GIS, red list compilation is moving from pure expert judgment to a process driven by releve data and rule-based decisions on the vulnerability and conservation value of plant communities. While vulnerability considers current distribution, quantitative development in the past, and foreseeable threats in the future, conservation value may be based on the frequency and status of component red-listed plant species, naturalness of the inhabited sites, and responsibility of the target region for the global preservation of a syntaxon. The combination of vulnerability and conservation value may be used to set reasonable priorities for conservation measures.
See also-. Application of Ecological Informatics; Artificial Neural Networks. Temporal Networks; Association; Biodiversity; Biotopes; Community; Dominance; Ecological Niche; Ecosystem Ecology; Ecosystems; Environmental Protection and Ecology; History of Ecology; Intertidal Zonation; Ordination; Plant Demography; Plant Ecology; Principal Components Analysis; Scale; Seasonality; Spatial Models and Geographic Information Systems; Statistical Prediction; Succession; Synecology.
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