Proceedings of the US National Vegetation Classification

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Your Guide to Inventorying Natural and Cultural Vegetation Communities

The United States National Vegetation Classification (USNVC) View of a green field with a mountain scape in the background with the sun during daytime. is a dynamic classification, open to revisions as new ecological knowledge becomes available. Authors can submit editorial changes and proposed revisions to the USNVC Review Board, which maintains an editorial and peer review process for these submissions (the Board is overseen by the ESA Panel on Vegetation Classification). The Proceedings of the USNVC serves as the official record of approved revisions to the classification, and contains published manuscripts and reports that document the reasoning and evidence behind those changes.

Instructions for Authors


  • Editorial Review Submissions: For minor to moderate editorial edits, which are published as Editorial Notes.
  • Peer Review Submissions: These instructions are for proposing new USNVC vegetation types or substantially revising existing types, such as by lumping, splitting or substantially altering an existing type concept and description. This typically require a formal report.
  • Methods, Data, and Best Practices Submission: These manuscripts are about a topic relating to the practice of vegetation classification for the USNVC. Follow the same requirements as for Peer Review Submissionss, but typically the NVC Template can be skipped.


For Editorial Review, authors will typically download the Editorial Review Submission Form [add link], and attach any existing type descriptions. They will edit the type description, with track changes on, and explain the problem and solution. Guidelines for the form are also available. [add link]


Background: Peer review submissions typically depend on data and information derived from standard plot data gathering, inventory, and analysis methods used for ecological vegetation classifications, such as the USNVC. Authors should be familiar with these basic vegetation ecology methods used by the USNVC (see Jennings et al. 2009, Faber-Langendoen et al. 2014).

Original submission. Provide information describing the extent to which data or text in the proposal have been used in other works that are published, in press, submitted, or soon to be submitted.

Data Policy. Authors are expected to make the plot data that support a proposal available through a public database, preferably VegBank (i.e. data are uploaded into VegBank [contact Michael_Lee@] or managed in a web-accessible institutional or organizational database, or readily available on request through an institution or organization).

Include computer code. Authors must provide any novel computer code for models, simulations, or statistical analyses used to support proposals.

Author profiles. Authors are responsible for modifying their profile to keep the editors and staff informed of changes in their contact information. The corresponding author will be notified of receipt of the manuscript (see below). Do not add the email address of a co-author as a secondary email address.

English. Authors whose native language is not English are encouraged to enlist the aid of a native English-speaking colleague to review the proposal for correct usage and clarity prior to submission.


Consult recent issues of the USNVC Proceedings for examples of style [add link]. For purposes of review, submitted proposals must adhere to the standard submission guidelines. Be sure to abide by the following minimum formatting requirements for submitted proposals:

  • The entire manuscript [but not the type description] must be double-spaced (text, quotations, figure legends, literature cited) at three lines per inch (12 lines/10 cm) with a 12-point font, Times New Roman. Choose the "double-spacing" option for line spacing. Leave a 1 inch (2.4-cm) margin on all sides of each page. Page size should be Letter 8 ½" by 11". Do not justify the right margin.
  • Assemble the parts of the manuscript in this order: summary, introduction and justification, methods, results, discussion, references, supporting documents, including NVC Template for describing types.
  • Number all pages (including tables, and figures), starting with the title page.
  • All pages of text should have line numbers as well.
Allowable file formats
  • Manuscript files in Word (.doc or .docx), WordPerfect (.wpd), Rich-text format (.rtf) or LaTeX (.TEX) format.
  • Table formats: doc, xls, tds, or csv (or Tables may be included in the manuscript file)
  • Figures/Images formats:doc, jpeg, tif, gif, eps, ps, or ppt (or Figures may be included in the manuscript file)
  • Appendices for archives in doc or html format. Video appendices in mpeg format.
  • Supplements can include, but are not limited to, original and derived data sets, source code for simulation models, and details of and software for unusual statistical analyses.

Appendices and Supplements should be in files separate from the manuscript (and not merged with the manuscript file).

Tables and figures may be in a separate file or in one file together with the manuscript text. If figures are in a separate file, please provide a separate file with all the figure legends (or include it in the manuscript file).


THE NVC TEMPLATE [not required for METHODS submission]

A standard USNVC Type Description Template must be used for all Type Descriptions [see attachment and guidance]. See also “Formatting your Proposal.”

If you are revising existing types already published in the USNVC (see, you may start your revisions process by request a template-based report from the USNVC Data Manager (currently Mary Russo; That report will contain the full description of the published content of a type (or types). It typically includes descriptions for higher level types as well.


The following questions are used by the NVC Review Board and Peer Reviewers to gauge the quality of Manuscript Submissions. We provide them here, so Authors may be guided by them when drafting their submissions. The criteria are written for a type, but apply equally to multi-type submissions.

Criteria Checklist

1. Number of plots or field observations. Does the proposal add to the number of plots describing the concept(s), and/or is the concept well-grounded in field observations?

  1. Number of plots (there is no required number of plots to describe a type, but confidence typically increases with more plots).
  2. Are the number of plots or observations adequate or appropriate for characterizing the type?
  3. If plots are not used, are field descriptions, literature sources or other observations on which type is proposed sufficient to support the concept?
  4. Are plots georeferenced, with good accuracy.

2. Site Selection. Is the selection of sites and plot locations well documented, including e.g. documentation relating to naturalness, natural disturbances, succession, human impacts?

3. Spatial. To what degree do the plots cover a large portion of the expected range of the type? Confidence increases as the portion increases.

4. Analytical methods – is the research repeatable and does it follow the principles of the NVC– a practical, rigorous ecological vegetation classification (see box below)? See FGDC 2008, Peet and Roberts 2013, Faber-Langendoen et al. 2014 for methodology and analysis guidance.

5. Is the type concept both clearly distinguished from other types and is it a practical type concept (See box of NVC principles below):

  1. Diagnostic combination of species clearly specified (including constants, dominants, and differentials) and overall composition assessed (e.g. through ordination and cluster analyses);
  2. Structural/growth form characteristic;
  3. (Bio)-geography;
  4. Environmental and dynamic factors;
  5. Practical concept, preferably validated in the field;

The more the above criteria collectively document the distinguishing characteristics of a type, separating it from other types, the greater the confidence in the type.

6. Does the type concept fit the criteria for the level that is being proposed (see FGDC 2008, and Faber-Langendoen et al. 2014 for criteria for each level) and does it fit with the next higher level it is proposed to be placed in? (e.g., proposed association fits the association criteria and fits into the assigned alliance).

7. General description:

  • Is the name of the vegetation type clear?
  • Does it follow USNVC nomenclature standards?
  • Is the description concise, well written, use clearly defined terms, and avoid jargon?
  • Is the description based on “existing vegetation” concepts?
  • Does the description integrate both vegetation and ecological criteria?
  • Is synonymy to already published concepts of the same type provided?
  • Do species names follow USDA PLANTS, or provide synonymy to that standard?


  • Develop a scientific, standardized classification system, with practical use for conservation and resource management.
  • Classify existing vegetation. Existing vegetation is the plant cover, or floristic composition and vegetation structure, documented to occur at a specific location and time, preferably at the optimal time during the growing season. This Standard does not directly apply to classification or mapping of potential natural vegetation.
  • Classify vegetation on the basis of inherent attributes and characteristics of the vegetation structure, growth form, species and cover, emphasizing both physiognomic and floristic criteria.
  • Base criteria for the types on ecologically meaningful relationships; that is, abiotic, geographic and successional relationships help to organize the vegetation into types and levels.
  • Facilitate linkages to other classifications and to vegetation mapping (but the classification is not a map legend).
  • The classification is applicable over extensive areas.
  • Application of the classification shall be repeatable and consistent.
  • When possible, the classification standard shall use common terminology (i.e., terms should be understandable and jargon should be avoided).


Where to Submit
Manuscripts can be submitted through the Scholastica website [provide link].

The Steps in the Process

  1. Submissions for proposed changes to all levels are to be submitted on line (link). Authors may suggest peer reviewers.
  2. The EIC checks that the manuscript conforms to the requirements of the NVC Proceedings.
  3. The EIC evaluates the manuscript to decide whether to accept for review or reject without review (consulting with the NVC Editorial Board as needed). If the former, the manuscript is sent to the appropriate Regional Editor (RE). If the latter, an explanatory note is sent to the author.
  4. The RE reviews the manuscript and may also either accept the manuscript for review or reject it without further review (if the latter, the RE will send a note to the author).
    If accepted, most submissions are evaluated through
    1. two external reviewers, and
    2. USNVC subject matter experts who are familiar with both the type and related types.
  5. The peer reviewers review the manuscript and make comments and recommendations to the RE (typically within 4-6 weeks). USNVC subject matter experts are also informed of the manuscript and may request to review it.
  6. The RE reviews comments and, based on peer review and USNVC subject matter experts, makes a decision: either
    1. Accept
    2. Revise
    3. Reject with resubmission invitation or
    4. Reject
  7. The RE drafts a decision letter, which could include providing additional suggestions for revisions, and sends the letter to the EIC for proofreading.
  8. The decision letter is proofread, finalized and sent to the Author.
  9. IF the decision is “revise,” the authors revise the manuscript and resubmit to the EIC as soon as possible, preferably within six weeks. If the revised manuscript is submitted later than 3 months of the decision, the EIC may request further revisions (given that the USNVC types may have changed since the original authors submission).
  10. The EIC reviews the revised manuscript and either requests further reviews (repeating steps 4–8 above) or makes a decision (steps 7-8 above).
  11. In the event the manuscript is accepted for publication, authors are provided a final opportunity to prepare the files related to the manuscript for page production and publication.
  12. Accepted manuscripts will be published on the USNVC Proceedings website.

Checking the manuscript status: You can check the status of your submission with the Scholastica website [website forthcoming].


Introduction (Including Justification/Objectives)
Study Area

Recommended Sections
  • Site Selection
  • Field Survey and Plot Sampling Methods
  • Vegetation
  • Site / ecological factors
  • Analytical methods.
  • Decision process for refining existing types or defining new types
  • Plot Data Management
  • Plot Databases/Archives Used.

Identifying Diagnostic Combination of Species (or Characteristic Species Combination)

See FGDC 2008 and Faber-Langendoen et al. (2014). Various supporting analytical techniques may be used. See especially Peet and Roberts (2013, section 2.6 and 2.7).

Specific Guidance on Differential Species

When considering whether a species is differential, specify the other types that are being compared and how the differential strength was determined. A common context would be among types within a higher type (associations within an alliance, alliances within a group). Thus, the differential species help distinguish a vegetation type among types within a higher vegetation type. The more that a species also reflects diagnostic value among any type in a region (and thus less dependent on hierarchical context), the stronger the differential strength (i.e. they become regional or even global character taxa). (from Willner 2006).

For example, longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) may not be a good differential for associations with a longleaf pine alliance or even group, though it is typically a good dominant and constant in those types. Various groundlayer or shrub species (such as Aristida stricta) are differentials at the association or alliance level. But longleaf pine is a very strong differential, or character species at the macrogroup level because it not only differentiates the macrogroup from other macrogroups within its division, but also from any other macrogroup in any other division.

Guidance on Differential Ecological Characteristics

It is difficult to provide guidance on how best to document the differentiating ecological characteristics. In some cases it may be site factors, such as texture, alkalinity, slope, aspect, flooding or saturation. In other cases it may be the disturbance regime, such that distinctive types (e.g. a sagebrush type and a pinyon-juniper type) may occur on essentially the same site conditions, but have different fire or grazing regimes. In this case, it will be important to note both the overlap in site factors and the distinctive disturbance regime that corresponds with the diagnostic features of the type.


Use the standard USNVC template to revise existing type or describe new types.

Discussion [can be combined with results, depending on submission]
Supporting Documents

References for Instructions to Authors

Faber-Langendoen, D., T. Keeler-Wolf, D. Meidinger, D. Tart, B. Hoagland, C. Josse, G. Navarro, S. Ponomarenko, J.-P. Saucier, A. Weakley, P. Comer. 2014. EcoVeg: A new approach to vegetation description and classification. Ecological Monographs 84:533-561 (erratum 85:473).

FGDC (Federal Geographic Data Committee). 2008. FGDC-STD-005-2008. National Vegetation Classification Standard, Version 2. Vegetation Subcommittee, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA. 55 pp. + Appendices.

Peet, R.K., and D.W. Roberts. 2013. Classification of natural and semi-natural vegetation. Chapter 4, In J. Franklin and E. van der Maarel, editors. Vegetation Ecology. 2nd edition. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

Willner, W. 2006. The association concept revisited. Phytocoenologia 36:67-76.

Editorial Board

Regional Editor Region
West Este MuldavinWarm Desert
Todd Keeler-WolfCalifornian
Marion ReidCool Semi-Desert
Del MeidingerVancouverian (Pacific Coastal)
Jack TriepkeRocky Mountain
Great Plains Bruce HoaglandGreat Plains
East Don Faber-LangendoenLaurentian-Acadian
TBDCentral Interior-Midwest
Lesley SneddonAppalachian-Northeast
Alan WeakleySoutheast Coastal Plain
Caribbean Humfredo (Fito) MarcanoCaribbean
Boreal Beth Schulz (interim) (US) /
Kim Chapman (CA)
Arctic Scott Guyer (US) / TBD (CA)Western Arctic / Alpine
TBD (US / TBD (CA)Eastern Arctic / Alpine