Tue, Nov 09, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Researchers bring plant classification system up to date

STREAMLINING Using methods similar to those in Europe and the US could provide useful data on Taiwan's ecosystems, scientists and officials say

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Council of Agriculture's newly revised classification system for vegetation is based on systems in the US and Europe, and will normalize basic information about plant life in certain regions, council officials said yesterday. The new classification will affect how ecosystem research is done, the officials added.

Global climate change and its ecological impact is of interest to scientists around the world. Taiwanese researchers at the council's Endemic Species Research Institute have spent years integrating international classification systems in order to form an appropriate one for Taiwanese botanists to use.

Two classifications systems were used to revise the nation's vegetation system.

The first is used by UNESCO and the second is known as the Braun-Blanquet approach to classification of vegetation, used widely in Europe.

Since 2001, researchers at the institute have adopted a newly-revised Taiwanese approach to distinguish between vegetation at low altitudes from plant life that lives at 500m to 1,500m in areas in central and western Taiwan. In these areas, rainfall is most frequent during typhoon season.

According to Liou Ching-yu (劉靜榆), an assistant researcher involved in the classification revision, 12 types of vegetation have already been classified. Liou also said that 24 types of vegetation live in areas between 500m and 3000m above sea level.

"In the past, different classifications of vegetation were used in diverse research fields. The system we have now will normalize data collection on vegetation for scientists with diverse backgrounds," Liou told the Taipei Times.

Liou said that the classification data might be crucial to studies involving ecological systems, such as research about wildlife habitats, land resource management and landscape planning.

Liou said that the evolution of a particular type of plant provides crucial information about other species which rely on it.

"If we found signs of the history of vegetation in certain areas, we can foresee a huge impact being made on animals or plants living there," Liou said.

Based on such information, sensitive areas can be deemed protected areas for the sake of ecological conservation, Liou added.

In the future, data about the classification of vegetation in northern Taiwan will be integrated with data from other parts of the country.

Ecosystems respond to climate change more sensitively than humans and could offer useful information for policy-making, scientists say.

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