The United States National Vegetation Classification (NVC) is an ecologically based, 8-level hierarchical classification of all vegetation type concepts currently found in the United States. Partners of the USNVC are committed to providing new versions, as new information comes in or as vegetation itself changes, owing to known trends in plant communities due to climate change, species invasions, anthropogenic impacts, and greater-than-historic disturbance events. In addition, while hundreds of publications and expert opinions were used to build the USNVC, gaps in our knowledge of plant communities remain. Thus, there is a need for more plot-based analyses to improve the NVC, and a peer review system has been implemented that allows anyone to propose changes for the improvement of the NVC. To manage the dynamic content, the USNVC is updated through a review process administered by the Ecological Society of America’s NVC Review Board (overseen by the ESA Vegetation Classification Panel, and authorized by the FGDC Vegetation Subcommittee). Here, we describe how this review process was developed and examples of the process at work, with the goal of engaging more vegetation ecologists, proposers and peer reviewers.
The Panel developed two primary review pathways: 1) editorial review, for relatively minor edits that do not affect the concept of the type, and 2) peer review, for substantial changes submitted to an existing concept or for new type proposals, typically based on plot data. Where plot data are lacking, but substantial published or field data are available, an expedited peer review process is permissible. The top 5 levels (Formations to Macrogroup) are updated every five years to provide a more stable structure for management and user purposes, and the lower 3 levels updated annually. All proposed changes are handled by the NVC Review Board, which includes Regional Editors (for particular regions) and Associate Editors (for particular Group-level concepts), who together also work with the Editor-in-Chief on changes to upper and mid-levels. A document is available that outlines requirements for proposals. When peer reviewed submissions are accepted, they are published in a USNVC Proceedings and, along with editorial submissions, are used to update the USNVC database (NatureServe Biotics) and contribute to new NVC versions on usnvc.org, hosted by USGS. The Panel is currently developing a network of partners with state ecologists and academics to solicit proposals and peer reviewers.