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Quantitative estimation of vegetation changes by comparing two vegetation maps

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The main goal of our work was to estimate how large the errors are associated with repeated vegetation mapping. We compared two vegetation maps (both 1:10 000) of the Pieniny National Park—ca 2300 ha (southern Poland), the first made in 1966 and the second in 2001. We superimposed—using the ARC-INFO software—a dense grid of points (50 × 50 m) upon each map, and we determined the identity of vegetation unit in each point for the year 1966 and for the year 2001. That procedure was repeated 100 times, each time changing the position of the grid by a random vector. To estimate the size of mapping errors, we compared the patches of communities which should not change their location during 35 years: vegetation of rocky outcrops and local wet depressions, and fertile beech forest, considered a climax community for the Pieniny Mountains. Overlapping small vegetation patches (average patch size below 0.5 ha) yielded highly erroneous results, while the reliability of overlapping the communities with large patches is much higher, exceeding 80% for average patch size of 5 ha. Taking into consideration the communities of average patch size of 1 ha, we can estimate that the vegetation has undergone profound changes: some communities expanded, while others shrunk. The area of meadows remained about the same, but majority of meadows in 2001 was located in former arable fields and previous meadow areas become forested. Among beech forests, we recorded an increase of area covered by floristically rich variants at the expense of floristically poor variants. We conclude that some information about vegetation changes may be obtained only by comparing sequential vegetation maps, but the reliability of the results strongly depends on the size of vegetation patches.

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We express our gratitude to Krystyna Grodzińska, Jan Holeksa and Jerzy Lesiński for their helpful comments on the earlier versions of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Elżbieta Pancer-Koteja.



See Tables 5, 6.

Table 5 A scheme of pooling plant communities in order to compare two vegetation maps
Table 6 Result of superimposing vegetation maps from 1966 and from 2001—number of points (see “Methods”)

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Pancer-Koteja, E., Szwagrzyk, J. & Guzik, M. Quantitative estimation of vegetation changes by comparing two vegetation maps. Plant Ecol 205, 139 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-009-9604-5

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  • Plant communities
  • Vegetation dynamics
  • Western Carpathians