In consultation with data contributors, continue to resolve vegetation subgroups in line with an ecological concept, whereby units are defined by key ecological features as well as compositional features of vegetation. ‘Key ecological features’ are locally and regionally relevant environmental gradients and ecological processes that determine species niches. This reform will strengthen the underlying theoretical basis for performance of vegetation subgroups as ‘surrogates’ for biodiversity.
Define the level of variability equitably within vegetation subgroups such that a set of approximately 100 units encompasses the full range of variation in ecological vegetation features on the Australian continent.
Label the subgroup level of classification as ‘Ecological Vegetation Subgroups’ to communicate the underlying concept of their definition and distinguish them from earlier concepts (e.g. understorey growth forms) used to define current MVSs. Give consideration to a fresh numbering system to avoid confusion with pre-existing subgroups defined under earlier concepts (Table 2 and Profiles in Appendix A attempt to match the current MVS numbering where possible, but this may promote confusion).
Major Vegetation Groups
Establish a dual system (Figure 1) allowing each NVIS record and each subgroup to be assigned (attributed) to both a structural group (based on the height, density and dominant genera of vertical vegetation strata) and ecological groups (based on ecological features and species composition). This requires definition of the major ecological vegetation groups.
Maintain the structural vegetation groups close to the current circumscriptions of MVGs, except where minor adjustments can resolve existing anomalies. This will preserve the consistency of ongoing reporting on forests and carbon stocks.
Ensure exclusive nested relationships between vegetation subgroups and ecological vegetation groups, and minimise cases where vegetation subgroups are represented in two or more structural vegetation groups.
Label the parallel major groupings as ‘Structural Vegetation Groups’ (currently Major Vegetation Groups) and ‘Ecological Vegetation Groups’ to promote transparency about the nature of the units to users.
Incremental improvements and resolution of classification anomalies The following recommendations have been implemented in the revised versions of fact sheets presented in Appendix A.
Rationalise ‘Other’ groups, which are currently circumscribed as leftovers from more clearly defined groups (e.g. MVGs 10, 17, 21, 31 and numerous MVSs). Some could be resolved by merging elements into other groups.
Improving consistency or better-accommodating inconsistencies between data contributors in attribution of NVIS levels V and VI through the interpretation of concepts such as dominance, regrowth, grassland with scattered trees cf. open woodland, heathland and mallee cf. mallee heath, etc.
Revise NVIS attribution to incorporate a ‘regrowth’ field, allowing each NVIS record to be attributed to structurally intact and regrowth states determined in consultation with data contributors (e.g. intact, advanced post-clearing regrowth, young post-clearing regrowth, etc. with agreed definitions). This reform would avoid lumping of different forms of regrowth into a single MVG and improve consistency among data contributors.
In consultation with data contributors, continue to resolve edge matching anomalies between and within jurisdictional borders.
Develop simple cross-walk relationships between Australia’s national vegetation classification and the international vegetation classification system currently under development (Faber-Langendoen et al. 2014).
Link the database entries and descriptions of vegetation groups and subgroups to the Australian Plant Name Index to ensure nomenclature is up to date.
Investigate options to streamline the assignment of NVIS Level 5/6 records to MVGs and MVSs. Automated scripts for such assignments require accurate and consistent attribution of NVIS records and verification procedures to ensure quality control.
Test and refine diagnostic keys to vegetation subgroups with input from data contributors.
Over time, update and improve photographic illustrations of vegetation groups and subgroups.
Specific Recommendations for Major Vegetation Groups and Subgroups MVG 1. Split the existing subgroup MVS 62 to create a new subgroup ‘Monsoon vine forests distributed in NT and WA from dry rainforests and vine thickets found in drier areas of Qld and NSW. Monsoon rainforests have a more strongly seasonal drought and some endemic elements not represented in the east. Conversely, eastern vine thickets include many species not represented in the monsoon tropics. Maintain other existing subgroups.
MVG 2. Split the existing MVS 3 into two new subgroups: Subtropical broadleaf wet sclerophyll forest (NSW, QLD); and Cool temperate ferny wet sclerophyll forest (NSW, VIC, TAS) to reflect differences in stand structure (multi-aged cf. more even-aged), species composition and understorey structure. Change name of MVS 54 to reflect its inclusion of forests with both broad- and fine-leaved shrubs in subtropical-warm temperate climates. Change name of MVS 60 to reflect its inclusion of mesic temperate forests with grassy/graminoid understories on both well-drained and boggy substrates. Create new subgroup for wet eucalypt forests in WA, which are compositionally unique.
MVG 3. Split tropical open forests from MVG3, rename as ‘Subtropical and temperate open eucalypt forests’, and re-assign tropical open forests (savannah forests) to revised MVG 4. This revision will separate disjunct forests with structurally, phenologically and contrasting understories and compositionally distinct overstories. Include MVS 54 as well as 60 in both MVG3 and MVG2. Retain existing subgroups MVS 4 and 5, but rename ‘Eastern dry shrubby sclerophyll forests’ and ‘Dry shrub/grass sclerophyll forests’, respectively, to reflect understorey features and distribution more transparently. Create a new subgroup for dry eucalypt forests in WA, which are compositionally unique. Create a new subgroup for riparian forests ‘Riparian eucalypt forests’ which share superficial structural resemblance with MVS 5, but are distinctive in terms of composition and function and some structural features (amphibious forbs and graminoids). Some of these riparian forests may also warrant inclusion in MVG 2, although currently few records are assigned there.
MVG 4. Revise the concept of MVG 4 and rename to ‘Tropical open forests’. Include in the revised MVG 4 disjunct forests from northern Qld, NT and WA extracted from MVG3, which have structurally, phenologically and contrasting understories and compositionally distinct overstories from those subtropical and temperate forests remaining in MVG 3. Re-assign to other relevant MVGs the relatively small number of records previously assigned to MVG 4 under the ‘low open forests’ concept. Create a single subgroup ‘Tropical eucalypt savannah forest’.
MVG 5. Revise the subgroups, which are currently based on understorey life form, to reflect ecological attributes and align more closely with jurisdictional classifications. Adopt five subgroups as follows: Eastern temperate grassy woodlands (similar to MVS 9, temperate grass box-ironbark forests of ACT, NSW, QLD, VIC SA, TAS); Subalpine woodlands (partially similar to MVS 59, low snow gum and sallee woodlands with mixed shrub/grass understories in cold elevated climates of ACT, NSW, VIC, TAS); Western temperate shrubby woodlands (similar to MVS 8, temperate eucalypt woodlands of WA wheatbelt); Semi-arid floodplain and wadi woodlands (similar to MVS 65, coolabah, black box and river red gum woodlands of inland floodplains and channels in NSW, VIC, QLD, NT, SA, WA); and Semi-arid upland woodlands (woodlands of various Adnataria and Bisectaria eucalypts on semi-arid peneplains, hills and plateaus in NSW, QLD, NT, SA, WA). Transfer MVS 10 (Eucalypt woodlands with Triodia understorey) to MVG 11, as many records are likely to have projective foliage cover <10%.
MVG 6. Retain MVSs 13, 14 and 20, but rename ‘Brigalow forests and woodlands’, ‘Upland tropical Acacia Woodlands’ and ‘Stony mulga woodlands and shrublands’, respectively to reflect structural and ecological features. Create an additional subgroup ‘Gidgee woodlands’ to reflect ecologically distinct woodlands in NSW, QLD, SA and NT. This new subgroup is also represented in MVG 13, while MVS 20 is also represented in MVGs 13 and 16. This configuration aligns well with Queensland BVGs. Re-assign to MVG 1, 2 or 3, the small number of records of temperate mesic acacia forests that are currently included within MVG6. These occur within matrices of eucalypt forest, typically have eucalypt or emergent or rainforest co-dominants at low densities, and do not match any of the MVSs
MVG 7. Retain MVS 12 as the only subgroup. Callitris glaucophylla exhibits a strong regrowth response to various disturbances including selective logging and overgrazing. Consequently some forests and woodlands currently dominated by abundant Callitris are derived from eucalypt forests and woodlands (MVGs 3 and 5) and include remnant eucalypts within the stands. Consider re-assigning the regrowth records with appropriate attribution (see Recommendation 10 above) to MVGs 3 and 5. This would retain the relatively restricted Callitris-dominated woodlands characteristic of semi-arid sandhills within MVG 7 and MVS 12.
MVG 8. Create three subgroups to reflect major differences in structure, function and composition. The most widespread of these, Calcareous sandplain woodlands dominated by C. pauper in semi-arid NSW, VIC, SA, could retain the existing subgroup number, MVS 26. New subgroups include Eastern floodplain/estuarine forests dominated by C. glauca in NSW, QLD and River oak forests dominated by C. cunninghamiana in ACT, NSW, QLD. Casuarina cristata woodlands of subtropical latitudes are typically within a matrix of brigalow and fit with the Queensland BVG concept of Brigalow woodlands. Consequently they are referred to MVG 6.
MVG 9. Create four subgroups to reflect differences in structure, function and composition and align with Queensland BVGs. The most extensive subgroup, Tropical sandplain woodlands dominated by Melaleuca viridflora and allies in WA, NT, QLD, could be assigned to MVS 15. It is less frequently inundated than other subgroups including: Tropical riparian forests (dominated by M. argyrodendra and others along stream in WA, NT, QLD); Tropical floodplain forests (dominated by M. leucadendra and others in tropical floodplain depressions in NT, QLD); and Sandplain wetland forests and woodlands (coastal sandplain swales and transitional floodplain/sandplain depressions dominated by Melaleuca quiniquenervia with Eucalyptus robusta in QLD, NSW).
MVG 10. This is a disparate group of ecologically unrelated vegetation types that also have some physiognomic and structural dissimilarities. It is one of the MVGs recommended for rationalisation in Recommendation 8 (see above). At this time the four subgroups (MVS 58, 11, 50, 16) are retained pending future revision in which the currently assigned records may be dispersed among other appropriate MVGs. This may require minor adjustment to circumscriptions of those MVGs
MVG 11. Rationalise the subgroups to reduce overlap with MVG 5. Retain MVS 18 and relabel as ‘Desert eucalypt woodlands’ including those dominated by desert bloodwoods, ghost gums and snappy gums with shrub and hummock grass understories. This could be lumped with MVS 20, many of which have open tree canopies. Some poorly known desert woodlands are dominated by Corymbia terminalis sens. lat. with tussock grass and shrub understories may warrant segregation when data improves. Two MVSs assigned to MVG 5 (Semi-arid floodplain and wadi woodlands, and Semi-arid upland woodlands) commonly have structural expressions as open woodland and are thus also represented in MVG 11. The remaining MVS numbers currently assigned to MVG 11 (19, 47, 48, 53, 56) do not cover additional variation and could be retired.
MVG 12. Retain as currently configured with one subgroup (MVS 7), noting that a number of records currently assigned to MVG 5, should be assigned to MVG 12. Delete reference to ‘forests’ in the label of MVS 12 – forests are assigned to the revised MVG 4.
MVG 13. Retain MVSs 22 and 23, but rename as ‘Semi-arid Myall woodlands’ and ‘Sandplain Acacia woodlands and shrublands’ respectively, to reflect structural and ecological features. The latter is also represented in MVG 16. Two subgroups represented in MVG 6 are also represented (more extensively) in MVG 13: ‘Gidgee Woodlands’ and ‘Stony mulga woodlands and shrublands’. The latter is also represented in MVG 16. Create an additional subgroup ‘Arid Myall woodland’ to reflect ecologically distinct woodlands in western NSW, southern SA and southeast WA. This new subgroup corresponds roughly with existing MVSs 24 and 25. If the former is retained for labelling the new subgroup, the remaining MVS numbers currently assigned to MVG 13 (21, 25, 45, and 52) could be retired because they do not cover additional variation.
MVG 14. Retain existing subgroups and add two others to achieve alignment with classifications of Haslem et al. (2010) and Beard et al. (2013). Relabel existing MVSs 27, 29, 55 and 61 as ‘Triodia mallee’, ‘Heathy Mallee’, ‘Shrubby mallee’ and ‘Chenopod mallee’, respectively after Haslem at el. (2010). Create an additional subgroup representing compositionally unique ‘Western Mallee’ restricted to WA. Heathy mallee requires careful interpretation against descriptions to ensure correct diagnosis with respect to mallee heathlands, which include taxonomically distant eucalypts and different shrub species composition in climatically humid regions. All MVG 14 subgroups are also represented in MVG 31.
MVG 15. Resolve into a more homogeneous grouping by re-defining the concept of MVG 15 around coastal littoral scrubs. Unrelated non-littoral scrubs include heathlands (MVG 18) and mire sedgelands (MVG 21) and should be re-assigned to appropriate subgroups within those MVGs. Three geographically and climatically segregated assemblages may later warrant recognition as separate subgroups: open tropical dominated by Casuarina equisetifolia, southeastern temperate scrubs dominated by Banksia integrifolia, Leptospermum laevigatum and Melaleuca spp., and southwestern scrubs dominated by Agonis flexuosa and Melaleuca spp. At present these are retained in the single MVS 28.
MVG 16. None of the current MVSs are uniquely assigned to MVG 16, which includes shrub-dominated structural expressions of two revised subgroups also represented in MVG 13: ‘Sandplain Acacia woodlands and shrublands’, and ‘Stony mulga woodlands and shrublands’. At present, these should be retained as the only subgroups within MVG 16. Future improvements in available data may enable resolution of these broad and regionally variable groupings into a larger number of subgroups.
MVG 17. Retain the most extensive subgroup (MVS 57 lignum shrublands), which corresponds represents a sound ecological concept (inland floodplain shrublands) represented in multiple jurisdictional vegetation units. The Melaleuca shrublands represented in MVG 17 as MVS 49 encompass an ecologically broad range of brackish scrubs, mire wetlands and semi-arid shrublands that require rationalisation as resources and data permit. ‘Other shrublands’ (MVS 32) also include includes disparate assemblages, many of which are likely to be either Acacia shrublands (MVG 16) with subjectively variable expressions of dominance or disturbance derivatives in response to overgrazing of other MVGs (e.g. MVG 11, 13, 14, 16). In both cases, re-assignment of records could produce a more parsimonious representation of vegetation relationships. As for MVG 7, consider re-assigning the regrowth records with appropriate attribution (see Recommendation 10 above) to relevant MVGs.
MVG 18. Split the only unique heathland subgroup (MVS 30) into four ecologically and compositionally distinct new subgroups: Southwest heathlands (unique to WA); Eastern heathlands (in QLD, NSW, VIC , SA, TAS); Montane and alpine heathlands (in NSW, TAS, VIC); and Tropical heathlands (in NT and the Kimberley region of WA). The first three of these display substantial ecological and compositional variation that may warrant recognition at subgroup level with future development of the major vegetation classification. The NVIS records currently assigned to MVS 18 under-represent its extent, suggesting that records currently assigned to other MVGs (e.g. 3, 14, 15, 17) warrant re-evaluation.
MVG 19. Combine the two currently recognised tropical grassland subgroups 34 (Mitchell grassland) and 35 (Blue grassland) and relabel as ‘Tropical arid grasslands’. The major genera commonly co-occur on black cracking clay plains, and merging them would be consistent with Queensland’s classification, which recognises Broad Vegetation Types with two subtypes, both of which include Mitchell grass and Blue grass). Consider creating an additional subgroup for subtropical arid grasslands, in which Blue grass is replaced by other tussock grass genera and chenopod forbs. Retain MVS 36 representing ecologically, physiognomically and structurally distinct temperate tussock grasslands, with variations in coastal and arid climates, that may warrant future recognition as distinct MVGs. Create a new subgroup including distinctive alpine grasslands and herbfields (noting that virtually all herbfields are in the alpine zone) include a tussock grass component with common floristic elements. Rationale ‘Other grasslands’ (MVS 37) among other MVSs or MVG 21, as appropriate.
MVG 20. Retain the existing subgroup (MVS 33), which provides an adequate representation of broad-scale diversity, given current knowledge of this extensive MVG.
MVG 21. Refine concept of MVG slightly to exclude non-wetland vegetation (currently a minor component). Revise the subgroups, which are currently based on life form, to reflect ecological attributes and align more closely with jurisdictional classifications. Adopt four subgroups as follows: Brackish reedlands and sedgelands (similar to MVS 41); Coastal floodplain meadows and lagoons (similar to MVS 63); Inland wetland complex; and Mires (partly similar to MVS 38). Re-assign ‘Other grasslands’ to other subgroups within MVG 21 or MVG20, as appropriate. Re-assign components of MVS 17 to MVGs 18 (shrubby fjaeldmark), 19 (herbaceous fjaeldmark), 27 (Boulders/rock) or other MVGs as appropriate.
MVG 22. Split MVS 31 into three subgroups: Sandplain bluebush shrublands; Clay plains saltbush shrublands; and Gibber chenopod shrublands to reflect major structural and compositional differences between arid zone chenopod shrublands. Split MVS 39 into two subgroups: Coastal saltmarsh; and Salt lake samphires to represent structural and compositional variation between variation between tidal and inland salt lake vegetation. Existing subgroups do not include alpine forblands and bolster heaths, which should be re-assigned to MVG 19 (Alpine grasslands and herbfields subgroup) and MVG 18 (Montane and alpine heathlands subgroup), respectively.
MVG 23. Consider splitting the existing MVS 40 into two subgroups representing diverse tropical and subtropical mangrove communities and largely monospecific temperate communities (approximately delineated by 30°S).
MVG 24-29, 99. Maintain two existing subgroups within MVG 24. Maintain single subgroups for MVGs 25-28 and 99. Re-consider subgroups of MVG 29 with regard to Recommendation 10, above.
MVG 30. Re-assign the small number of records currently assigned to MVG 30 to the revised concept of MVG 4. They fit well within this revised group.
MVG 31. Includes open-woodland structural expressions of subgroups also represented within MVGs 7, 8 and 9. Re-assign MVS’s 70, 71, 73 and 75 to subgroups Callitris forests and woodlands, Calcareous sandplain woodlands and Tropical sandplain woodlands, as appropriate. Relabel MVS 72 as ‘Desert oak woodlands’ to clarify key features of the vegetation. Re-assign records in MVS 79 to relevant subgroups or MVGs.
MVG 32. Replace existing subgroups with those described for MVG 14, as understories are indistinguishable in the different structural expressions of the tree layer.
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Appendix 1. Descriptive profiles of Major Vegetation Groups
Appendix 2. Diagnostic keys to subgroups within Major Vegetation Groups
Keith, D. A. & Pellow, B. J. (2015). Review of Australia’s Major Vegetation classification and descriptions. Centre for Ecosystem Science, UNSW, Sydney.
These keys were adapted from earlier keys developed by Matt Bolton and Chris Meakin (Environmental Resources Information Network) to support NVIS 4.1 Refer to Hnatiuk et al. (2009) for a leaf size chart and lists of diagnostic features.