Vegetation mapping and nature conservation: a case study in Terceira Island (Azores)

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In order to emphasize the importance of vegetation mapping for nature conservation purposes a case study in Terceira island (Azores) is presented, in which the importance of the natural vegetation of the eastern slope of Santa Bárbara volcano (which is part of the Site of Community Importance of Santa Bárbara–Pico Alto) is evaluated through the elaboration of its vegetation map. Fourteen (14) different natural vegetation types were identified: grasslands (1 type), peat bogs (2 types), scrubs (2), forests (5), successional vegetation (3) and vegetation of rocky slopes (1). All communities are protected under the Habitat and Species Directive (EC/92/43) and most of them are endemic to the Azores Islands. This fact, together with the significant number of Azorean endemic taxa (18), Macaronesian endemic taxa (5) and species protected under the Habitat and Species Directive (7), gives this area an important conservation value that justifies future protection actions. Vegetation mapping is an important tool for the characterization, evaluation and implementation of managing plans of natural areas of the Azores islands. The use of a floristic-based classification, supported by multivariate analysis and structural data, is an efficient methodology for the construction of these maps. The data collected comprise an important set of information about the distribution and abundance of natural vegetation types and endemic and rare species. This information was not available until now and is indispensable for the elaboration of management plans of Special Zones for Conservation that will be part of the NATURA 2000 network.

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