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Mapping Forest Vegetation

© Alexsander S. Bogolyubov, Nadejda S. Lazareva, Russia, 2001

© Michael J. Brody, USA, 2003

Mapping forest vegetationThis manual describes two procedures for vegetation mapping: complete and transect mapping. The stages of field studies are described including reconnaissance survey, determination and mapping of plant associations and geobotanical description of typical vegetation. Related lab studies include mapping and analysis of the spatial distribution of vegetation.

This field study has instructional video featuring real students conducting the ecological field techniques in nature. Each video illustrates the primary instructional outcomes and the major steps in accomplishing the task including reporting the results.


The study of ecological interrelationships of any area should result in the determination of spatial distribution patterns for components of the ecosystems at the given area, mainly – revealing interrelationships between the vegetation and its biotope.

As mentioned above, such data can be obtained by two major procedures: by establishing and describing an integrated landscape profile, and by geobotanical map-making. Procedures for establishing and describing the profile were discussed in previous lessons in the autumn field studies course. In this lesson students will learn how to make a geobotanical map.

Methods and results of vegetation studies by making profiles and by map-making are similar, though each procedure has its own peculiarities and objectives.

Results of profiling are shown visually in the form of the profile drawing – a vertical “section” of the site under study (a side view), whereas results of geobotanical map-making are expressed in the form of a colorful map (an "aerial" view).

Vegetation studies resulting in a profile can better demonstrate vegetation changes depending on relief (for instance, along the line “valley-watershed”), whereas a geobotanical map can better illustrate contours of plant associations, their diversity and the correlation of different plant associations.

A secondary goal – why we study vegetation – has influence upon the selection of the method of vegetation representation. When studying vegetative cover, it is advised to study it by making a profile as it can better show peculiarities of vegetation distribution and its connection with relief and soils. A complex profile is suggested when conducting an integrated ecological or special geobotanical study.

When conducting monitoring and zoological investigations, for instance, when studying pollution or ionizing radiation background, or when studying the nesting areas of birds or structure of mammal populations, it is recommended to study vegetation by a map-making method. It is advised to make geobotanical maps when studying other objects if their distributions depend on vegetation (invertebrates, lichens, fungi, etc.)

Procedures for vegetation mapping

Geobotanical maps as well as other maps are divided according to scale into small-, middle- and large-scale maps. This lesson will focus on making large-scale geobotanical maps without discussing the peculiarities of the world’s vegetation and regions or botanical-geographical regions.

A large-scale geobotanical map gives one an idea about the distribution of plant associations on a limited site of the area under study; it indicates the nature of boundaries and changes among them.

A geobotanical map can be made in compliance with different procedures, starting from a complete geobotanical survey and ending with air or space mapping, however, we will limit our procedure to two variables for the purposes of the present lesson – complete mapping of a forest tract with the help of an eye survey method and mapping of a linear transect.

Which procedure should be given preference, depends first of all upon peculiarities of vegetation of the area under study.

It is advisable to apply a method of complete mapping at scale 1:5000 (50 m in 1 cm) in forested areas with slightly disturbed vegetative cover and more or less distinct changes in plant associations. The site can have an approximate size of 0.5 X 0.5 km (0.25 km2).

It is recommended to use a procedure of linear transects to study sites with much patchiness of vegetative cover (parks, forest belts) and in case there is no map-basis available. A linear transect is a belt of 70-100 meters wide and about 1 km long.

Complete mapping of a forest tract by an eye survey method

Complete mapping by an eye survey method involves walking the mapped site (it is a forest track, as a rule) along a network of parallel routes with simultaneous plotting of plant association boundaries on a ready cartographic framework with subsequent extrapolation of their contours for sections between routes.

Routes are laid down in straight lines parallel to each other at a distance of 50-100 meters from each other, depending on the complexity and patchiness of vegetation cover in forested areas or very rugged terrains.

While forest mapping, a group of students is divided into teams of 2 pupils. One team is given the task to map the forest track along the perimeter, whereas all other teams are...


This was only the first page from the manual and its full version you can see in the

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set:

It is possible to purchase the complete set of 40 seasonal Ecological Field Study Materials (video in mpg + manuals in pdf formats) in an attractive 4 compact disk set. These compact disks are compatible with Mac and PC computers. The teacher background information and manuals can be printed out for easy reference. The videos are suitable for individual student or whole class instruction. To purchase the complete 4CD set write a request to the authors (in a free form).

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set

Some of these manuals you can also purchase in the form of applications for Android devices on Google Play.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk:

We also have a free and interesting demonstration disk that explains our ecological field studies approach. The demo disk has short excerpts from all the seasonal field study videos as well as sample text from all the teacher manuals. The disk has an entertaining automatic walk through which describes the field study approach and explains how field studies meet education standards.

You can also download the Demo Disc from This is a virtual hybrid (for PC and Mac computers) CD-ROM image (one 563 Mb file "CD_Demo.iso"). You can write this image to the CD and use it in your computer in ordinary way. You also can use emulator software of virtual CD-ROM drive to play the disk directly from your hard disk.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk


Other Ecological Field Studies Instructive Manuals:

Autumn Season

  1. Orienteering in the Forest
  2. Procedure of the Geological Exposure Description
  3. Plotting a Profile of a River Valley Slope
  4. Simple Procedure of Soil Description
  5. Assessment of the Vital State of a Forest Based on Pine-tree Analysis
  6. Study of Species Composition and Number of Fungi
  7. Study of Species Composition and Census of Birds Using the Line Transect-counting Method
  8. Integrated Study Based on Landscape Profile
  9. Complex Environmental Assessment of Human Impact on an Area
  10. Assessment of Air Pollution by Lichen Indication Method

Winter Season

  1. Making a Campfire
  2. Simple “Eye” Survey of the Field Study Site
  3. Study of Growth Dynamics of Trees Based on Annual Rings
  4. Mapping Forest Vegetation
  5. Green Plants Under Snow
  6. Methods of Observation of a Chickadee Flock's Territorial Behavior
  7. Procedure of Winter Mammals Route Census by Footprints
  8. Study of Mammal Ecology According to Their Tracks
  9. Physical and Chemical Properties of Natural Waters
  10. Study of Snow Cover Profile

Spring Season

  1. Let's Help Birds!
  2. Study of the Ecology of Early Flowering Plants
  3. Phenology of Plant Florescence
  4. Assessment of the Vital State of Coniferous Underbrush
  5. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part I: Forest Litter, Wood)
  6. Studies of Species Composition and Abundance of Amphibians
  7. Studying Minerals and Rocks in Your Area
  8. Studies of the Day Activity of Singing Birds
  9. Studies of Bird Populations Size by Different Methods
  10. Study of Fauna of Spring Temporary Water Bodies

Summer Season

  1. Making a Herbarium
  2. The Study of Plants in Your Local Environment
  3. Study of the Vertical Structure of a Forest
  4. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part 2: Grass Layer, Tree Crowns and Air)
  5. Study of Birds’ Nesting Life
  6. Complex Comparative Description of Small Rivers and Streams
  7. The Study of Water Invertebrates in a Local River and Assessment of Its Environmental State
  8. Study of Plankton
  9. Assessment of Ecological Features of Meadows on the Base of Vegetation Cover
  10. Assessment of Environmental State of the Forest Based on Leaves’ Asymmetry

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