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The famous drawing of Mount Chimborazo, Mont Blanc and Mount Sulitjema by Alexander von Humboldt probably shows the first scientific attempt of physiognomic zonation related to elevation, clearly distinguishing between forests, shrubland and montane savannah. In 1955, Beard described the plant communities in the vegetation systems for the tropics on the basis of their structure and growth form and identified a number of units he called formations. These are further subdivided into associations or communities according to floristic composition and can occur in more than one vegetation system. By the end of the 1960s, early 1970s applications ranging from forestry exploitation, land-use analysis to nature conservation, all needed descriptions and spatial delineation of vegetation structures. The detailed Zürich-Montpellier (Braun Blanquet 1928) method commonly used in Europe, was too slow and required too much taxonomic knowledge from its applicants to work under conditions of high species richness. Several renowned scientists experienced in the application of the Zürich-Montpellier method used their experience in vegetation analysis to design a species-independent method that could be universally applied. A variety of physiognomic classification systems have been developed, usually in combination with other modifiers.

 

The most broadly accepted system has become the “Tentative Physiognomic-Ecological Classification of Plant Formations of the Earth”, developed under the auspices of the UNESCO. It is a hierarchical classification system designed to compare ecological “habitat”. The system combines physiognomic and ecological modifiers to characterise and classify vegetation units (Muellerr-Dombois & Ellenberg 1974). The authors never seem to have had in mind to provide an exhaustive list of possibilities, but rather provide a framework approach, that allows customisation to the broad variability of nature. Instead, the often-repeated instruction “Subdivisions possible”, makes it an extremely flexible and intuitive system, suitable for all terrestrial conditions. That the system has a sound foundation may be concluded from the fact that several later systems have been spun off from the system, most notably the USNVC system in 1998 and the Land Cover Classification System, LCCS of FAO/UNEP in 2000 (Di Gregorio & Jansen 2000).

 

Analysis of physiognomic vegetation classification from LANDSAT images (detail of 30 X 30 m pixels for the visible and near-infra-red bands) is possible, but it is largely deductive, as one cannot actually observe the physiognomic structures such as trees and shrubs or their absence. The level of detail of what can be deducted directly from deflexion of light radiation alone is rather limited, but through combination of indirect information, such as elevation levels, terrain patters, seasonal leave-shedding, etc., one may deduct further detail. Experienced field biologists may further enhance the level of detail from field reconnaissance and prior knowledge, such as dominant species of structural classes in certain regions of a country. Hence, detailed analysis depends on substantial field knowledge of the analyst.

As considerable as these limitations may seem, satellite images have great advantages, such as1:

·         Each image covers a large area;

·         The per hectare cost of LANDSAT image has always been lower than that of aerial photographs; since the launching of LANDSAT 7 in 2001, “raw” (Un-processed) satellite images have become very cost effective2, as they now cost a mere US $600 each (http://edc.usgs.gov/products/satellite.html 2003 pricing);

·         A new series of images of the entire earth is taken every 16 days;

·         National military institutions can’t block out the analysis of regions by prohibition of the distribution of imagery;

·         Digital format facilitates frequent change of scale;

·         Classification is rapid and digital mapping can be done directly by computer3, thus speeding up the process and reducing costs.

 

In areas with homogeneous vegetation structures, physiognomic classification systems show rather little detail, while there is no good knowledge to indicate whether or not more detailed spatial differentiation of species assemblages occur. To partially compensate for this low level of detail, biogeographical criteria should be applied whenever reasonable assumptions for such divisions may be made. In applying such criteria, one must use reason and logic. Rare ecosystems, which would need to be fully included in a protected areas system, may not need further splitting, unless biogeographical regionalisation is clearly present. It would primarily be relevant for the more common and what shall later be defined as “typically large terrestrial ecosystems”.

1 This list is not meant to be exhaustive but illustrative.

2 A set of 37 images for Central America would now only cost $17.575 and regionally purchased could serve all 7 countries of the region.

3 This is also possible for aerial photographs, but the process is far more elaborate since each photograph must be converted to digitised format, rectified and processed individually.

  This page  is part of our web-book on Biodiversity Conservation. For organized reading go to our on-line Table of Content, or download our book in pdf format.

 

 

NATURE WORLDWIDE is the official website of the World Institute for Conservation and Environment, WICE. It is an integrated network of web sites dealing with different topics on nature, nature conservation and natural resources management. Read here why we created Nature Worldwide. Our Methodology explains how we produced our information. Our Site Map helps you find your way in the website. We made this website out of passion for conservation. We spent our own salaries and free time to gather the information and publish it on these websites, in total valuing hundreds of thousands of dollars of professional time. Nobody pays us to do this. We simply want to contribute to conservation. If you appreciate our work, PLEASE visit our site Adopt A Ranger and see how you can make a difference for conservation most effectively: By paying one day of the salary of a ranger, you will make a difference in conserving the lives of thousands of birds, other critters and entire forests. Enjoy!

NATURE DU MONDE est le site Web officiel du World Institute for Conservation and Environment, WICE, C'est une collection intégrée de sites web qui traitent avec des sujets différents sur nature, conservation de la nature et gestion des ressources naturelles. Lisez ici pourquoi nous avons créé Nature de Monde. Notre Methodologie explique comme nous avons produit nos renseignements. Notre Site Map vous aide trouver votre entrée dans le site web. Beaucoup de plaisir!

NATURALEZA DEL MUNDO es la página Web oficial del World Institute for Conservation and Environment, WICE, Es una red de páginas Web tratando de temas diferentes relacionados a la naturaleza, la conservación el manejo de recursos naturales, parques nacionales y áreas protegidas. Lea aqui porqué hicimos Naturaleza del Mundo. Nuestra Methodología explica como produjimos la información. Nuestro Mapa del sitio le ayuda encontrar su información en nuestra página web. Disfrute! 

NATUREZA DO MUNDO é o Web site oficial do World Institute for Conservation and Environment, WICE, Es uma red de páginas Web tratando de temas diferentes relacionados à natureza, la conservação el manejo de recursos naturaleiss, parques nacionais y áreas protegidas. Lea aqui porqué creamos Natureza do Mundo. Nossa Methodología explica como produjimos a informação. Nosso Mapa do sitio le ayuda encontrar sua informação no web site. Desfrute!

NATUR DER GANZEN WELT ist, die offiziellen Website der World Institute for Conservation and Environment, WICE. Es ist ein einheitliches Netzwerk von Web Sites, über Themen wie Natur, Natur-Schutz und natürlichem Ressourcen Quellen Hege. Lesen Sie hier warum wir Natur der ganzen Welt gemacht haben. Un

sere Verfahrensweise erklärt, wie wir unsere Informationen produziert würde. Unsere Site Map  hilft Ihnen Ihren Weg im Website zu finden. Viel Spaß!

NATUUR UIT ALLE STREKEN is, de officiële Website van het World Institute for Conservation and Environment, WICE. Het is een geïntegreerd Netwerk van websites, over Natuur, Natuurbescherming en het beheer van natuurlijke hulpbronnen. Lesen Sie hier warum wir Natuur uit alle Streken gemacht haben. Onze pagina Methode legt uit, hoe we onze informatie vergaarden. Onze Site Map helpt u op weg door onze website. 

WICE is a worldwide non-government non-profit organization that contributes to the conservation of nature. While it works on a many issues related to the conservation of nature and the protection of the environment, it is particularly committed to the conservation of national parks and other protected areas.

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