Plant sociology

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The plant sociology (phytocenology; English phytosociology ) is a descriptive and systematic method of geobotany (vegetation geography ) for typifying the vegetation and structuring the vegetation units . It can be understood as a branch of vegetation science that deals with the vegetation cover within plant ecology .


The earth's vegetation cover consists of different types of plants that occur in different and recurring combinations of species. Plant sociology is the study of the socialization of plant species and part of vegetation science. It describes individual plant communities and strives for an empirically founded systematic order of all plant communities in order to show their characteristic properties and their relationship. In plant sociology, the Zurich-Montpellier School according to Braun-Blanquet is predominant.

Plant sociology is a historically established but controversial term. While the sociology that emerged after it and its biological disciplines, animal sociology and biosociology, often only investigate intraspecific societies, the plant societies examined by plant sociology consist of several species. Therefore, some authors refer by analogy to Zoozönologie and Biozönologie the doctrine of the association of plant species as Phytozönologie . But this use of language is also controversial because it abstracts from the historical development of plant sociology. Conversely, the use of the term “plant sociology” has also been encouraged by the sociologist Bruno Latour : It is not only the older term, but also aims to describe and understand societies made up of heterogeneous components. With this, Augustin-Pyrame de Candolle, as its creator, is also one of the founding fathers of sociology and plant sociology is a role model for the social sciences.


The plant-sociological method is based on four working steps: 1. the vegetation survey, 2. the tabular typing of vegetation surveys according to floristic similarity, 3. the social description of the vegetation types and 4. the systematic classification of the vegetation types.

Vegetation uptake

The vegetation survey is carried out in the field and describes the transfer of real vegetation stocks into a symbolic representation. → see main article: Vegetation recording

Tabular comparison

The vegetation recordings are collected and entered in a plant-sociological table for comparison . The rows of the table list the types, the columns the individual recordings. The rows and columns are sorted according to similar species combinations and similar occurrences. Plant-sociological types of vegetation can be identified, which are characterized by their floristic structure. These taxonomically irrelevant plant sociological units are called plant societies, which correspond to combinations of species found in the area.

Company description

Once the vegetation units have been determined in a tabular comparison of the vegetation recordings and the typifying allocation, the plant communities can be described, whereby the characteristic combination of species of the respective plant community is to be defined. If the description of the floristic structure of the plant community is successful, then further synthetic characteristics such as saturation, distribution, neighborhood, substrate properties for the vegetation surveys involved can be taken into account in order to analyze geographical aspects, ecological site characteristics and anthropogenic conditions of the vegetation units.

Systematic classification

With the generalized description of society, the real cases are abstracted into an ideal type that does not appear anywhere in the real vegetation, but is similar to many real vegetation stocks in the characteristic inventory of species. If the plant society has been well typed and described, it can be compared with known plant sociological associations and assigned. Associations are clearly identifiable plant communities with syntaxonomic rank and end in -etum. For example, the unqualified Matricaria discoidea society from the example described above would be assigned to the Polygono arenastri-Matricarietum discoideae.


The associations form the basic units of the plant sociological systematics (syn systematics). The associations are arranged in a hierarchical system of plant communities. Related associations are grouped into plant sociological associations, these are grouped into orders and these in turn are grouped into classes. In this way, the plant sociological units of different scope and syntaxonomic level are formed. The associations are based on socially loyal types of characters that are typical for an association, i. H. occur here widespread and are absent in other societies. The principle of character types is only applied within superordinate, primarily defined by growth forms, the formations (a kind of character type of a grassland community, even if it also occurs in different forest communities). In the ideal case, character types should only appear in the described association (“loyal”), but in this association (“continually”). Since it is not always possible to form associations on the basis of character types, especially in societies with “average” location conditions, differential types are also used. These demarcate one society from a neighboring one, but occur in other societies (so they are not "loyal"). The principle of character and differential species is used in exactly the same way for the higher units. In this way, class, order and association characteristics are defined.

Combinations of species that cannot be identified by character or differential species cannot be described as plant communities according to the plant-sociological system. If you want to keep them (for practical reasons), they are neutrally referred to as “society”, but not described as an association. A society can usually be assigned to a higher level (e.g. an association or order) if the corresponding character types appear. The naming of the plant sociological syntaxa is regulated in the International Code of Plant Sociological Nomenclature (ICPN). The company names consist of one or two species names and an ending that characterizes the syntaxonomic level:

Syntaxonomic level Ending
association -etum
Association -ion
order -etalia
class -etea


Plant sociology comes from vegetation geography , such as the geographical descriptions of vegetation by Carl von Linné and Alexander von Humboldt , and was developed in the first decades of the 20th century and finally expanded by Josias Braun-Blanquet (1928) to a scientific and practicable method in the field . This is known as the Zurich-Montpellier School of Plant Sociology and has prevailed over other schools such as Du Rietz's Uppsala School . The plant sociology according to Braun-Blanquet was significantly promoted in Germany by Reinhold Tüxen and the floristic-sociological working group . In southern Germany Erich Oberdorfer made a significant contribution to the breakthrough of this method. In addition to specialist scientists, many interested laypeople were and are involved in the development of plant sociology. The plant-sociological method is used as a tool in various specialist sciences (e.g. geography, biology, agricultural science, forestry, landscape planning). After the plant sociological system was largely developed for Central Europe in the early 1970s, academic interest in plant sociology shifted from the production-oriented specialist sciences to ecology and nature conservation. At the same time, quantitative approaches were widespread in plant sociology, which attempted with statistical significance analyzes to bring the plant sociological method into line with the exact natural sciences. Such approaches are controversial because the basis of plant sociology is the recording of vegetation, which is a qualitative process step, and an ultimately unscientific pseudo-accuracy would be introduced with significance analysis and homogeneity calculation.

Sigma sociology

Sigma sociology is a special form of plant sociology, which examines the socialization of plant communities, which are called vegetation complex (Sigma society, Sigmetum). For this purpose, the plant communities of an area are first described and classified systematically in order to create an acquisition key or mapping instructions with which the vegetation complexes are then mapped. The recurring combination of plant communities can then be determined by nomenclature analogous to the social systematics (see above). The synsystematic structure consists of the characteristic plant communities with a corresponding addition, which indicates the level in the system:

Syntaxonomic level Ending
association -Sigmetum
Association -Sigmion
order -Sigmetalia
class -Sigmetea

Forerunners of sigma sociology were developed from vegetation geography to describe landscapes, for example the formations .


  • Josias Braun-Blanquet : Plant Sociology . Basics of vegetation science. 3rd, revised and significantly increased edition. Springer, Vienna 1964.
  • Hartmut Dierschke : Plant Sociology . Basics and methods (= UTB. 8078). Ulmer, Stuttgart 1994, ISBN 3-8001-2662-1 .
  • Hartmut Dierschke, Karl-Heinrich Hülbusch, Reinhold Tüxen : Ash and alder spring forests on the southwestern edge of the Bückeberge near Bad Eilsen, at the same time a contribution to the local plant-sociological working method. In: Communications of the Floristic-Sociological Working Group. NF H. 15/16, 1973, ISSN  0373-7632 , pp. 153-164.
  • Klaus Dierssen: Introduction to plant sociology (vegetation science). Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1990, ISBN 3-534-02151-7 .
  • Bernd Gehlken: Class lottery. The sociology of plants between vegetation knowledge, formalism and technocracy. In: Karl Heinrich Hülbusch (Red.): In good company (= contributions to plant sociology , landscape and vegetation studies. Vol. 2 = notebook of the Kassel school. 55, ZDB -ID 1040093-x ). Arbeitsgemeinschaft Freiraum und Vegetation, Kassel 2000, pp. 259–364.
  • Bernd Gehlken: The beautiful "oak and hornbeam forest". Also a forest or: the “art” of plant sociological systematics (= notebook of the Kassel school. 72). Arbeitsgemeinschaft Freiraum und Vegetation, Kassel 2008, ISBN 978-3-00-024054-6 (At the same time: Kassel, University, dissertation, 2007).
  • Gerhard Hard : The spontaneous vegetation of the residential and commercial areas of Osnabrück. In: Osnabrück natural science messages. H. 9, 1982, ISSN  0340-4781 , pp. 151-203, online .
  • Dieter Kienast : The spontaneous vegetation of the city of Kassel depending on building and urban structure types of districts (= Urbs et Regio. 10). Comprehensive University Library, Kassel 1978, ISBN 3-88122-037-2 (At the same time: Kassel, Comprehensive University, dissertation, 1978).
  • Michael Mühlenberg : Outdoor Ecology (= UTB. 595). 3rd, revised edition. Quelle & Meyer, Heidelberg et al. 1993, ISBN 3-494-02186-4 .
  • Erich Oberdorfer (Ed.): South German Plant Societies. Volumes 1-4 (in 5). Fischer, Jena 1977-1992;
    • Volume 1: Rock and wall communities, alpine corridors, water, silting and moor communities (= plant sociology . 10, ISSN  0553-9080 ). 2nd, heavily edited edition. 1977;
    • Volume 2: Sand and dry grasslands, heather and bristle grass societies, alpine grasslands, fringe societies, field and tall herbaceous corridors (= plant sociology . 10). 2nd, heavily edited edition. 1978;
    • Volume 3: Farm meadows and weed communities (= plant sociology . 10). 2nd, heavily edited edition. 1983;
    • Volume 4: Forests and Bushes. 2 part volumes (A: text volume B: table volume ). 1992.
  • Günther Reichelt , Otti Wilmanns : Vegetation geography. Westermann, Braunschweig 1973, ISBN 3-14-160241-7 .
  • Fritz Runge: The plant communities of Central Europe. A small overview. 10./11., Verb. and increased edition. Aschendorff, Münster 1990, ISBN 3-402-04383-1 .
  • Josef Schmithüsen : Allgemeine Vegetationsgeographie (= textbook of general geography. Vol. 4). 2nd, improved edition. de Gruyter, Berlin 1961.
  • Ludwig Trepl : History of Ecology. From the 17th century to the present (= Athenaeum pocket books. 4070). Athenaeum, Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-610-04070-X .
  • Reinhold Tüxen : The plant communities of Northwest Germany. 2nd, completely revised edition. Cramer, Studium 1974, ISBN 3-7682-0860-5 .
  • Reinhold Tüxen: Plant sociology as a synthetic science. In: Meddelingen van de Botanische Tuinen en het Belmonte Arboretum of the Landbouwhogeschool te Wageningen. Vol. 12, 1968, ISSN  0006-8160 , pp. 141-159.
  • Reinhold Tüxen (Ed.): Association complexes (Sigmetes) and their practical application. Cramer, Vaduz 1978, ISBN 3-7682-1186-X .
  • Otti Wilmanns, Reinhold Tüxen: Sigma associations of the Kaiserstuhl vineyards before and after large-scale land consolidation. In: Reinhold Tüxen (Hrsg.): Association complexes (Sigmeten) and their practical application. Cramer, Vaduz 1978, ISBN 3-7682-1186-X , pp. 287-302.
  • Otti Wilmanns: Ecological Plant Sociology (= UTB. 269). 4th, revised edition. Source u. Meyer, Heidelberg et al. 1989, ISBN 3-494-02168-6 .

References and footnotes

  1. See Tüxen (1974) and Oberdorfer (1977ff)
  2. See Gerhard Hard: Ruderalvegetation. In: Notebook of the Kassel School. Vol. 49. Kassel 1998. p. 11.
  3. ^ Bruno Latour: Reassembling the Social. Oxford University Press, New York 2005. ISBN 0-19-925604-7 , p. 6. ( full text ( memento of March 9, 2013 in the Internet Archive ); PDF; 1.4 MB)
  4. Bruno Latour: Gabriel Tarde and the end of the social. In: Soziale Welt 3, 2001. pp. 361–376. ( Full text ; PDF; 178 kB)
  5. Braun-Blanquet 1964. Otti Wilmanns 1989
  6. The table work is described in detail in Dierschke et al. (1973).
  7. See the analogous systematics of biology: order (biology)
  8. See the analogous systematics of biology: class (biology)
  9. Tüxen (1974) and Oberdorfer (1977 ff.)
  10. ^ HE Weber, J. Moravec, J.-P. Theurillat: International Code of Phytosociological Nomenclature. 3rd edition. In: Journal of Vegetation Science. Volume 11, No. 5, 2000, pp. 739-768, ( PDF file, in the web archive ). German translation by Heinrich E. Weber in: Synopsis of the Plant Societies of Germany. Special issue 1, 2001. Göttingen.
  11. cf. Trepl (1987: 122-138, 208-217).
  12. cf. Trepl (1987).
  13. See: Reinhold Tüxen (Ed.) 1979; Wilmanns / Tüxen 1979; Dieter Kienast 1978; Gerhard Hard 1982.
  14. See Schmithüsen 1961; Trepl 1987