A Guide to Caribbean Vegetation Types: Preliminary Classification System and Descriptions


caribbean vegetation guide nature conservancy
Stretching almost 6,800 km. and composed of a chain of over 1,000 islands, the West Indies have been and continue today to be a center of evolution and ecological diversity. Their geologic histories are varied: some islands are young and still actively volcanic, others older uplifts of fossilized coral reefs, others are but vestiges of once massive volcanic mountain chains which formed large land masses that have been at varying times interconnected and isolated. This complex history has led to the presence of many unique vegetation types which provide habitat for an astonishing diversity of flora and fauna, some of which is endemic to the region, and an alarming proportion of which is also highly threatened. Ultimately, our ability to protect this vast array of species and communities is dependent at the coarse level on our ability to target and conserve representative examples of these vegetation types. Conserving biological diversity at the level of natural communities is an important complementary approach to single-species conservation efforts because natural communities contain important assemblages of species and the habitats that support these species.

Improved conservation of the distinct natural vegetation types that occur on Caribbean islands is greatly facilitated if these vegetation types are accurately understood, described, and mapped in a manner that is accepted and respected by the diversity of countries, cultures, and peoples that make up the Caribbean today. The Caribbean Vegetation Classification and Atlas Project has been a key step towards characterizing the natural vegetation and landcover of the region, island-by-island, based on a newly derived standardized vegetation and classification system.

This Project has involved the following key steps:
-- review of existing vegetation classification efforts
-- convening of a Caribbean Vegetation Ecology Working Group
-- development of a Standard Classification System for the Caribbean
-- production of a Vegetation and Landcover Atlas following the newly derived standard classification system

After an exhaustive review of existing vegetation classification systems, the Working Group and project team developed a standardized vegetation classification system and set of maps which characterize the vegetation types of the Caribbean in a scientifically consistent manner.