Construction of potential natural vegetation (PNV) poses particular challenges in landscapes heavily altered by human activity and must be based on transparent, repeatable methods. We integrated the concept of ancient forest (AF) and ancient forest species (AFS) into a four-step procedure of PNV mapping: 1) classification of forest vegetation relevés; 2) selection of those vegetation types that can serve as PNV units, based on AF and AFS; 3) merging of selected vegetation types into five PNV units that can be predicted from a digital morphogenetic soil map; 4) mapping of three additional PNV units based on additional environmental data. The second step, concerning the selection of reference forest vegetation, is of particular interest for PNV construction in Flanders (northern Belgium), where for cover has been subject to temporal disruption and spatial fragmentation. Among the variety of extant forest recovery states, we chose as PNVunits those vegetation types for which a high proportion of relevés had been located in AF and that contained many AFS. As the frequency of AFS depends on site conditions, we only compared and selected vegetation types that are found on similar sites according to average Ellenberg indicator values. While succession is irrelevant for the definition of PNV, colonization rates of AFS can be used to estimate the time required for PNV to be restored in a site.
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