Broad-scale classification of Mediterranean lowland to submontane pine forest vegetation relies on forest structure for high ranks

The post provided by Gianmaria Bonari

Pinus brutia forest understory in the surroundings of Yamanlar, Turkey, 2019. Photo credit Milan Chytrý.

This Behind the paper post refers to the article Classification of the Mediterranean lowland to submontane pine forest vegetation by Gianmaria Bonari and colleagues, published in Applied Vegetation Science (

We studied Mediterranean lowland to submontane pine forest vegetation, a very common vegetation type throughout the Mediterranean Basin. Despite its broad distribution, it was not traditionally recognized as a standalone type in Mediterranean vegetation classification. This approach was inherited from past classifications, after pioneer phytosociologists realized that there is a large overlap in diagnostic species with Mediterranean oak forests, and therefore opted for having them both in the same big box called Quercetea ilicis. Nowadays, this solution is hard to convey to practitioners and difficult to apply in remote sensing of vegetation and land-cover or habitat classifications, because Mediterranean forests composed of needle-leaved or broad-leaved crowns are very different in their physiognomy.

In this paper, using 5000 vegetation plots across the whole Mediterranean Basin, we showed differences in the presence of narrow-leaved xerophytes and broad-leaved species in the understory of the two forest types. Also, pine forests of the Mediterranean Basin are frequently confined to specific edaphic conditions under which oaks do not develop into canopy dominants. Therefore, we formally separated these types at the highest level of the classification system and created a new class called Pinetea halepensis. This class comprises native forests and old-established plantations of Mediterranean thermophilous pines including Pinus brutia, P. halepensis, P. pinaster and P. pinea. In such a way, the classification can be applied in various applied sciences, practical management, and conservation, but it is also easier to understand to non-specialists.

Further, we revised the alliances of all Mediterranean pine forest types, using more than 7000 vegetation plots, and classified their ecological features, distribution, statistically derived combinations of diagnostic species and their correct vegetation names. Our study shows that the major eco-geographical vegetation units occurring in the Mediterranean pine forests are distributed according to specific gradients that follow elevation and geography. In summary, this classification study sheds light on the biodiversity, biogeography and environment of the Mediterranean thermophilous pine forests, thus providing a tool for better conservation planning, monitoring and management at both the international and national level.

Pinus brutia forest structure in the surroundings of Yamanlar, Turkey, 2019. Photo credit Gianmaria Bonari.

In this context, I take the opportunity of inviting all the colleagues working on different aspects of pine forest to collaborate across the Mediterranean Basin and beyond, to establish future fruitful collaborations. The PINEnet is a proposed network of scientists working on pine forests that will start operating in the near future. Therefore, if you are willing to carry on something challenging and innovative to deepen and strengthen the knowledge about this exciting topic, consider using the data already available in the CircumMed Pine Forest Database (Bonari et al. 2019). Do not hesitate to contact me to discuss further steps.

Pine forests are out there, and they are just waiting to be studied!


  • Bonari, G., Knollová, I., Vlčková, P., Xystrakis, F., Çoban, S., Sağlam, C. et al. (2019) CircumMed Pine Forest Database: an electronic archive for Mediterranean and Submediterranean pine forest vegetation data. Phytocoenologia, 49, 311–318.

Brief personal summary: Gianmaria Bonari is currently a researcher at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano (Italy) and a former member of the Vegetation Science Group at Masaryk University (Czech Republic). His scientific interests include botany, vegetation science and conservation biology. His research revolves around plants and involves a thorough understanding of plant communities and habitats at different spatial scales. He is especially interested in vegetation classification for better conservation. He is a member of the Council of the European Vegetation Archive (EVA) and a custodian of the international CircumMed Pine Forest Database.