Virtual Special Issue: Macroecology of vegetation

The post provided by Meelis Pärtel

Tropical rain forest near Kourou (French Guiana) in 2006. Photo credit: Meelis Pärtel.

Vegetation science has a long history in broad-scale approaches that range from mapping vegetation types and vegetation properties to using plant geographical data to calculate regional properties of plant assemblages. While these works have provided valuable general descriptions of vegetation, a macroecological approach might help move towards more inferential large-scale science, understand the underlying processes behind the distribution of plant communities, and disentangle the relative impacts of different factors across space and time. In short, the macroecology of vegetation might lead towards a more predictive vegetation science, which is compelling in a rapidly changing world.

Macroecology of vegetation is fuelled by recent advances in ecoinformatics, especially the compilation of large vegetation-plot databases. With such data, we can better understand how evolutionary history and varying abiotic and biotic conditions influence local plant communities across different regions and spatial scales. When analyzed together, carefully collected descriptions of local plant communities have an emergent added value.

Journal of Vegetation Science recognizes the importance of broad-scale data-driven approaches that seek mechanistic explanations. It states in its scope that the journal publishes papers on all aspects of plant community ecology and macroecology of vegetation. Thus, there is a journal that specifically welcomes studies on the macroecology of vegetation.

In 1991, Eddy van der Maarel, the founding editor of the Journal of Vegetation Science, defined ‘vegetation science’ as ‘everything the Journal of Vegetation Science wishes to publish’. The macroecological focus of the journal has now been highlighted by a Virtual Special Issue entitled ‘Macroecology of Vegetation’. In March 2020, guest editors Meelis Pärtel, Francesco Maria Sabatini, Naia Morueta-Holme, Holger Kreft and Jürgen Dengler announced the plan on social media and contacted several potential authors. The call received a warm response, and soon there were over 50 proposals of contributions. After carefully screening the preliminary abstracts, the editors invited 33 of them to submit the full paper, 20 of which were finally accepted for publication. Since the Journal of Vegetation Science moved to the continuous online-only publishing model in 2021, all papers appeared in their final form shortly after acceptance, but a Virtual Special Issue of all papers is online (

This collection of papers showcases a number of potential topics that the macroecology of vegetation might include, though by no means being an exhaustive list. Patterns of fine-grain plant community characteristics, as well as alpha-and beta-taxonomic or functional diversity at large spatial extents clearly result as emerging topics. The pace and progress in compiling extensive vegetation-plot databases have been staggering. However, big data come with their own limitations in coverage, quality and accessibility. Several studies outlined some of such imperfections, and there is still much to do to upgrade databases and develop statistical tools. And yet, macroecological vegetation scientists are now in the position to fill many knowledge gaps and tackle urgent global challenges related to the invasion of alien species, changing climate and altered land use. The Journal of Vegetation Science has set the stage for such developments and is open for future submissions on the macroecology of vegetation.

This blog post is based on the editorial of the Virtual Special Issue (