Bogged down in the European marsh vegetation classification: a short story of a long project

The post provided by Flavia Landucci

Drawing summarizing the ecology and relationship of some marsh communities. By Flavia Landucci.

This post refers to the article Classification of the European marsh vegetation (Phragmito‐Magnocaricetea) to the association level by Flavia Landucci et al. published in Applied Vegetation Science (

“How is your research project going?”

It can be sometimes difficult and frustrating to answer this question, especially if you know your research project should have been completed already a long time ago. In the last five years, I tried to answer this question in the most imaginative ways I could, mixing true reasons and excuses I could not explain properly even to myself.

Now I would reply to the same question: ”Finally I completed the WetVegEurope project. I got bogged down there for seven years, I am now out, but I left a boot there!”

Well, let’s look back what happened since the beginning:

In 2012 I was a young researcher, just after my PhD about wetlands in Italy. With Milan Chytrý and Kateřina Šumberová we started to think about a post-doc project for creating a unified and formalized phytosociological classification of European marsh vegetation.

In 2013 I applied for a “SoMoPro II” grant (a two-year grant co-funded by the Marie Curie Action and the South Moravian Region of the Czech Republic). The project was funded, I moved to the Czech Republic and started to work on it in July 2013.

In the beginning, everything looked so easy. Of course, there was a lot of work to do, but I was so enthusiastic, ambitious and… naive. I was sure everything could be completed in two years, and after that, I would go back to Italy and continue my life there. With Milan Chytrý we even decided to review all the European marsh vegetation up to the level of phytosociological associations, because we believed the work to do was not so difficult. This is the point I started to get bogged down but I did not realize it yet …

Marshland of Colfiorito Natural Park, Umbria, Italy. Clearly visible contact and separation of two marsh associations, Schoenoplectetum lacustris and Phragmitetum australis, according to water depth. Photo credit: Flavia Landucci.

In the beginning, we contacted more than 40 European experts. Most of them appeared to be quite cooperative, but communication was not always easy. I am not a very diplomatic person, and I definitely had to work on improving this skill. Anyway, we got valuable data from 33 European countries. At that time the European Vegetation Archive (EVA) did not exist yet, but with the help of Stephan Hennekens, we assembled a large database of European aquatic and wetland vegetation, including 375 654 plots (Landucci et al. 2015).

We found 636 names of associations, alliances and orders whose validity needed to be checked. Another step into the mud …

We put together a digital library of around 700 publications including recent papers and old ones, with descriptions, validation of names, vegetation-plot records and associations missing in our database. Another step into the mud …

We had to check and sometimes extensively read all these publications. They were in different languages and not always we could find the information we needed. This part of the job was very time demanding, but fortunately, we could count on excellent librarians and project partners able to understand different languages.

Our database included data using 15 different species lists and our first import in the program JUICE 7.0 contained 93 656 species. These were not all true species: some of them were valid names, some were synonyms, some contained typos, and yet others were organisms not included in our study. All these had to be checked and removed. Further several steps into the mud …

In recent years, Stephan Hennekens and Lubomír Tichý developed tools in the programs TURBOVEG 3 and JUICE 7.0 useful to manage multiple species lists and synonyms, but nothing from this was available at the beginning of our work. From the beginning to the end of the project, the species list in our database was completely reviewed seven times, each time using the newest tools available.

When the planned two years of my project ended, I was still deeply in the mud. My private life did not help my research and started to interfere, pushing me even a bit more into the mud. The work continued, but slowly. Between 2015 and 2016, I participated in the project “European Red List of Habitats” and contributed to other publications. However, my mind was obsessively stuck to the marsh vegetation classification. I had a lot of material and I needed to make an order both in my mind and in the classification. The elaboration of the conceptual skeleton of the classification occupied most of my time in the last five years. I wanted to create a classification that can be easy to apply and would be widely accepted in Europe and elsewhere, but I was scared of critics. For a long time, I was taking one step forward and one step back in the mud, and again, and again.

Drawing by Flavia Landucci.

In 2017, a new project funded by the Czech Science Foundation and led by Lubomír Tichý, “Next-generation expert systems for vegetation classification on a continental scale”, gave me an opportunity to entirely focus on European marsh vegetation classification. My private life this time started to help me and threw me a rope from one direction. Step by step I began to cross every marsh vegetation type and after crossing 92 marsh associations, I found myself out of the mud.

I left a boot there because of two reasons. First, we still have to publish some material about marsh vegetation. Second, I left seven years of my life in this project, in which I learned a lot about science and life.

By the way, after seven years I am still in the Czech Republic … The truth is that when you begin something, you can imagine where it will bring you, but you do not know what will really happen. Now when I am at home and my small daughter puts everything out from shelves, boxes and drawers, rips off papers, leaves and hides food everywhere, I think “Well, I was able to put into order the marsh vegetation of Europe, so I can definitely tidy up here!”


Landucci F., Řezníčková, M., Šumberová, K., Chytrý, M., Aunina, L., Biţă-Nicolae, C., … Willner, W. (2015). WetVegEurope: a database of aquatic and wetland vegetation of Europe. Phytocoenologia, 45, 187–194.

Brief personal summary: Flavia Landucci is an Italian researcher working in the Vegetation Science Group at Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic. Since her PhD, she has focused her research on aquatic and wetland vegetation and habitats. Flavia is particularly interested in vegetation classification and improvements of its consistency for the development of shared classification system in Europe. She is also part of the Steering Committee of the Vegetation Classification Working Group of the International Association for Vegetation Science.