International Vegetation Classification

A Catalogue of Global Ecosystem DiversityGlobal

About This Project

  • The classification is based on vegetation collected from stands currently existing in the field.
  • The range of vegetation includes natural to cultural stands (forests to plantations, prairies to lawns).
  • Those stands are described using field plot data.
  • Vegetation types are characterized by vegetation patterns from these plots, organized by their ecological and biogeographic relations.
  • Vegetation types can be defined using a number of differentiating vegetation criteria. The most useful criteria are those that express ecological and biogeographic relationships.
  • The classification facilitates but is distinct from vegetation mapping.
  • The classification is multi-leveled, allowing users to zoom in or zoom out to the scale of ecosystem classification that meets their needs.
  • The various levels are connected, allowing users to readily link up and down among types.
  • The scientific rigor of the classification is maintained through peer review, administered by a classification panel.


The International Vegetation Classification (IVC) provides a comprehensive multi-level structure to describe and classify the world’s ecosystems.

The classification is based on vegetation and ecological criteria, including vegetation growth forms and structure, plant species, and ecological characteristics such as site, disturbance, bioclimate, and biogeography.

The International Vegetation Classification addresses many core needs for conservation and resource management:

  • Describes existing ecosystem patterns, including both natural systems (forests, prairies, alpine) and cultural systems (plantations, orchards, lawns).
  • Describes types at multiple thematic scales, from formations or biomes (Temperate Grassland, Amazonian Lowland Rain Forest) to fine-scale associations (Mesic Northern Tallgrass Prairie).
  • Supports documentation of status and trends of vegetation and ecosystems (e.g., trends in areal extent and ecological integrity), including for IUCN Red Lists of Ecosystems, and North American global ranks for ecological community types.
  • Facilitates interpretation of long-term (even paleo-ecological) change with short-term change.
  • Provides a structure to track real-time ecosystem responses to invasive species, land use and climate change, by tracking semi-natural types that form by human disturbances and invasive exotic species.