On the delineation of tropical vegetation types with an emphasis on forest/savanna transitions

M. Torello-Raventos, T.R. Feldpausch, E.M. Veenendaal, K.V. Sykora

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

93 Citations (Scopus)


Background: There is no generally agreed classification scheme for the many different vegetation formation types occurring in the tropics. This hinders cross-continental comparisons and causes confusion as words, such as ‘forest’ and ‘savanna’ have different meanings to different people. Tropical vegetation formations are therefore usually imprecisely and/or ambiguously defined in modelling, remote sensing and ecological studies. Aims: To integrate observed variations in tropical vegetation structure and floristic composition into a single classification scheme. Methods: Using structural and floristic measurements made on three continents, discrete tropical vegetation groupings were defined on the basis of overstorey and understorey structure and species compositions by using clustering techniques. Results: Twelve structural groupings were identified based on height and canopy cover of the dominant upper-stratum and the extent of lower-strata woody shrub cover and grass cover. Structural classifications did not, however, always agree with those based on floristic composition; especially for plots located in the forest-savanna transition zone. This duality is incorporated into a new tropical vegetation classification scheme. Conclusions: Both floristics and stand structure are important criteria for the meaningful delineation of tropical vegetation formations, especially in the forest/savanna transition zone. A new tropical vegetation classification scheme incorporating this information has been developed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-137
JournalPlant Ecology & Diversity
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • plant-communities
  • rain-forest
  • land-cover
  • african vegetation
  • physiognomic classification
  • ecological classification
  • cerrado vegetation
  • savanna vegetation
  • brazilian cerrado
  • climate-change


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