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How a national vegetation classification can help ecological research and management

May 1, 2015

The elegance of classification lies in its ability to compile and systematize various terminological conventions and masses of information that are unattainable during typical research projects. Imagine a discipline without standards for collection, analysis, and interpretation; unfortunately, that describes much of 20th-century vegetation ecology. With differing methods, how do we assess community dynamics over decades, much less centuries? How do we compare plant communities from different areas? The need for a widely applied vegetation classification has long been clear. Now imagine a multi-decade effort to assimilate hundreds of disparate vegetation classifications into one common classification for the US. In this letter, we introduce the US National Vegetation Classification (USNVC; www.usnvc.org) as a powerful tool for research and conservation, analogous to the argument made by Schimel and Chadwick (2013) for soils. The USNVC provides a national framework to classify and describe vegetation; here we describe the USNVC and offer brief examples of its efficacy.