The Circumboreal Vegetation Mapping group, or CBVM, is a subgroup of vegetation scientists within the CAFF Flora Group (CFG) and the International Association for Vegetation Science (IAVS) devoted to mapping the vegetation of the boreal region.

The development of the CBVM is an attempt to provide a common legend and languagefor ecosystems of the boreal region that looks beyond the confinesof administrative regions and regional approaches. In this respect it will form the basis for important information forassessment and planning, and for solving natural and environmental protection problems. Documenting the current distribution of the boreal forest is a first step toward monitoring long-term changes.

Currently, vegetation maps of the circumboreal region exist at a wide variety of scales using many legend approaches. These maps have been developed by numerous authors for a wide variety of disparate applications but are not integrated  into a unified system.  To fully address the consequences of conservation and management issues, a circumboreal  vegetation map is needed with a unified approach.

The CBVM will have numerous applications for boreal scientists and managers relating to:

  • resource development, including effects of fire disturbance, timber harvesting,
  • land-use planning, including transportation and industry,
  • studies of boreal biota and biodiversity, including analysis of animal migration, impacts on species and exotic species management
  • anticipated global changes, including providing input into climate and vegetation models, estimation of northern soil carbon stocks and feedback mechanisms
  • human interactions and potential risks.


Goals and Objectives

  • To produce a vegetation map at a scale of 1:7.5 million with geobotanical database and derived products of the entire boreal biome using a unified, international method for classifying and mapping boreal vegetation.
  • To provide a common legend and language for the various ecosystems that make up the boreal region with a consistent treatment for the vegetation through legend descriptions, photographs, lists of major vegetation types, and supplementary maps.  Although there are a number of useful remote-sensing products displaying vast areas of the north, the intention is to develop a true vegetation map. Basic map units will be physiognomic and/or a combination of physiognomic-floristic units.
  • To identify and map regions of diversity/rareness/value and their vulnerability to global and local climate change and anthropogenic impacts, i.e. ,“boreal hotspots”. 
  • To ensure compatibility with the Circumpolar Arctic Vegetation Map (CAVM)
  • To form a key component of a GIS database of circumboreal ecosystem characteristics and assist some of the key conservation/management issues in the boreal forest region.
  • To be a useful tool for a wide spectrum of users, including but not limited to, policy and decision makers, land-use managers, climate change scientists, global modelers, educators, ornithologists, and vegetation scientists.

The map is directed at a wide spectrum of users, including but not limited to, policy and decision makers, land-use managers, climate change scientists, global modelers, educators, ornithologists, and vegetation scientists.

The CBVM builds on the CAVM. Linking these two global-scale maps is necessary because very few issues relevant to the Arctic or the boreal regions stop at tree line. For example, most rivers flowing into the Arctic Ocean have their origin far to  south of the tree line. Accordingly, a major goal is to make the CBVM compatible with the CAVM.

Why the boreal?

The boreal forest plays a significant role in regulating the Eath's chemical, biological and physical balance. Dubbed the "green halo," it comprises almost 30 per cent of the worl's forest area. This circumpolar ecosystem stretches across the northern latitudes of North America, Iceland, Southern Greenland, Russia, and Fennoscandia. The boreal forest and its associated oceanic heaths, thickets, and peat bogs play an essential role in helping to protect us from climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide and purifying the air we breathe.

Vegetation can serve to describe many facets of ecological patterns across the landscape across the landscape and is an essential component of energy flow in ecosystems and provides habitat for many organisms. Vegetation generally integrates the ecological processes acting on a site or landscape more measurably than any other factor or set of factors and is often chosen as the basis for the classification of terrestrial ecosystems. Because vegetation provides the primary production and structure of the food web, it controls the distribution of other biota such as fish, birds, and mammals. Patterns of co-occurring plant species have received more attention than those other components, such as fauna, because they are relatively easy to measure and map. An additional benefit is that vegetation is often used to infer soil and climate patterns.

During the next few decades the boreal forest will be strongly affected by many forces from within and outside the region, including global climate change, cumulative impacts of resource development, human populations, and tourism. The relatively simple and fragile ecosystems could be dramatically altered through changes to the vegetation,  demands for lumber and pulp, wetland destruction, and thawing of ice-rich permafrost. This could have important consequences to the wildlife resources and people living within the boreal forest.

Many environmental problems are no longer national or regional in character and must be addressed in a global context. Because vegetation acts as an integrator of many of the physical and biological attributes of an area, a vegetation map can be used as a surrogate for ecosystems in conservation evaluations. Political boundaries seldom coincide with biogeographic boundaries. Thus, management strategies for long-term maintenance of biodiversity may be better focused on the characteristic biota of a region. Aggregating information on ecological resources by zones and vegetation units organizes information according to the natural characteristics of the vegetation, rather than along national boundaries, which frequently cut across natural ecosystems. A vegetation map, therefore, provides the foundation for assessing of ecological regions and their distribution.


Project history

The need for a CBVM was discussed at the Second International Workshop on Circumpolar Vegetation Classification and Mapping held in Tromsø (Sommarøy), Norway, in June 2004. This need was further discussed at the Third CAFF Flora Group Workshop (CFG) in Helsinki, Finland, in May 2005, and a proposal for funding was initiated. An organizational meeting was held in Fairbanks, Alaska, in March 2006 and a funding proposal was further developed. Attendees at this meeting were: Teresa Hollingsworth (Boreal Ecology Cooperative Research Unit, Pacific Northwest Research Station, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Fairbanks), Stephen Talbot (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Anchorage), and Donald "Skip" Walker (University of Alaska Fairbanks). At the CAFF XI Biennial Meeting in Yllas, Finland, in March 2006, CAFF National Representatives endorsed the CBVM. This approval was followed by an endorsement by the Senior Arctic Officials representing the eight Arctic States. In the interim, the CFG received support from Environment Canada, Faroe Islands Homeland Government, and U.S. Department of State to fund the Fourth International CAFF Flora Group Workshop. This workshop helped pave the way for a larger Circumboreal Vegetation Map (CBVM) workshop in Helsinki, Finland, held 3-7 November 2008. Funding for the CBVM workshop was secured from the Nordic Council of Ministers by Finland.

At the Fourth International CAFF Flora Group Workshop (CFG) held from May 15-18, 2007 in Tórshavn, Faroe Islands, members convened to address ongoing scientific work concerning arctic flora and vegetation, including the creation of the CBVM. A final resolution is as follows:

"Whereas the distribution, characteristics, and history of Arctic and boreal flora and vegetation are of essential importance with regard to (1) the knowledge of how circumpolar terrestrial ecosystems interact with climate and contribute to the changing earth system; (2) the conservation of biodiversity of these regions; (3) the increasing exploration and development of circumpolar nations; and (4) the education about the Arctic and boreal region, be it resolved that the international community of Arctic and boreal vegetation scientists and botanists undertake the joint tasks:

  • Develop (i) a uniform modern interactive Circumarctic Flora, including species pages with taxonomic, ecological, and distribution information for all Arctic vascular plants, mosses, and lichens; (ii) an Arctic Vegetation Database as well as a list of arctic plant community types; and (iii) digitized arctic herbarium information that can be accessed through one common Arctic portal.
  • Compile, edit, and publish a Circumboreal Vegetation Map (CBVM) depicting the distribution and boundaries of boreal vegetation south of the arctic zone, by using recent and traditional vegetation classifications and maps, remote sensing tools at a scale of approximately 1:7,500,000, and a legend that is accepted by the international community of plant scientists.
  • Support biodiversity monitoring efforts in the arctic and boreal regions of the world, with projects such as the Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine environments (GLORIA), local floras, and Panarctic vegetation change.
  • Form a CFG Education/Outreach Subcommittee to address the urgent need to bring young scientists into the fields of Arctic and boreal floristic studies and vegetation analysis and mapping, and to educate the public about the value of these efforts.
  • Furthermore, we request the endorsement of the Nordic Council of Ministers for these projects and ask their assistance in announcing that the cooperation, interest, and scientific expertise of the international community is welcome in the development of these resolutions.
  • Finally, be it resolved the undersigned scientists develop the organizational mechanisms to accomplish the above stated tasks and, in particular, produce draft products by the Boreal Workshop in 2008 in Helsinki, Finland, when the CFG will convene again."

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