Australian Vegetation Attribute Manual

National Vegetation Information System, Version 6.0
Executive Steering Committee for Australian Vegetation Information (ESCAVI)
Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2003
ISBN 0 642 54953 2

Section One: Introduction


The National Vegetation Information System (NVIS) was developed to underpin the National Land and Water Resources Audit (NLWRA) assessment of vegetation in Australia (NLWRA, 2001). The development and maintenance of NVIS is a collaborative program between Australia's Commonwealth, States and Territory governments. The NVIS framework is managed by the Executive Steering Committee for Australian Vegetation Information (ESCAVI), which comprises senior representatives from each of the above jurisdictions. The National Forest Inventory has an observer on ESCAVI.

There is a separate but complementary national forests database, the National Forest Inventory, which is primarily a data resource for reporting on productivity and sustainability matters in forests. The NFI is broadly consistent with the NVIS, although some of the data and classification attributes on which it is based differ to those used for NVIS. Coordination mechanisms have been established at the technical and governance levels between NVIS and the NFI to work towards greater consistency between these two information systems.

The guiding principles of the NVIS partnership and framework (NLWRA, 2001) are:

  • Resolving data and information differences across administrative and program boundaries to provide comparable and consistent data Australia wide;
  • Collaborative work of mutual benefit;
  • Recognising regional level environmental differences;
  • Flexible and extendable;
  • Fully documented quality and application of the component data sets;
  • Delivering Information to meet current needs, foreshadowing and anticipating long-term needs;
  • Improving the knowledge and information base of Australia's vegetation (pre-European and present) and addressing data gaps;
  • Ensuring use is commensurate with data;
  • Providing information and assessments to support vegetation and other natural resource decision making;
  • Improving data access and dissemination;
  • Recognising the jurisdictional role in meeting specific vegetation information requirements, management responsibilities and obligations.

The main products of the NVIS partnership and framework, to date, have included:

  • A vegetation attribute framework for NVIS that includes nationally consistent data attributes and standards (NLWRA, 2000a - an earlier version of this document);
  • A database of existing mapped present and pre-clearing (pre-European) vegetation data where available (Thackway et al, 2001). Data compiled into the NVIS (2000) dataset included both native (grasslands, rangelands, shrubs, mangroves, riverine, woodland and forests) and some exotics (pastures and weeds), as well as vegetation structure (height and cover), and floristic composition;
  • Descriptions of the above source datasets as per ANZLIC metadata standards (Page 0) and agreed Page 1 attributes;
  • A report identifying existing digital vegetation data nationally; gaps in digital vegetation data nationally; recommendations of priority for filling vegetation gaps nationally; and a list of programs/activities underway to fill vegetation data gaps;
  • Final products to underpin the native vegetation assessment (NLWRA, 2001) and for making widely available through the Audit distribution channels, viz:
    • The Australian Natural Resources Atlas (; and
    • The Natural Resources data Library (

The NVIS Framework

The NVIS Framework has been developed as a collaborative process between the Commonwealth, States and Territories. The Australian Vegetation Attributes are a key component of the Framework. Version 5.0 (NLWRA, 2000a) was used to compile the NVIS (2000) dataset from Australia's States and Territories (Thackway, et al, 2001).

The Australian Vegetation Attributes are envisaged to be one of several sets of attributes to be developed as part of the NVIS Framework (Fig. 1). This Manual covers the main attributes to describe vegetation types (Boxes 4 and 5) and to document and manage the input datasets from the States and Territories (Box 2). Metadata attributes (Box 10) are both an input and an output of the NVIS Framework. The reader is referred to ANZLIC (1996) as a minimum standard for documentation of spatial data.

Metadata attributes are also listed and defined in a wider, practical context in the Audit's Information Management Manual (NLWRA, 1999), which specifies data management and compilation standards (Box 1). The Audit's Manual covers data quality, availability of framework data sets, data licensing and the required standards for text, tabular, database and spatial products.

This Manual also covers taxonomic attributes to support NVIS (Box 7) and checking rules (Box 6) to ensure the consistency and quality of the vegetation descriptions and detailed vegetation data; however, a comprehensive treatment of attribute compilation rules is beyond the scope of this Manual. A project is currently under development to review site attributes in the vegetation chapter (Walker & Hopkins, 1990) of the "yellow book" (Box 8). Vegetation condition attributes (Box 9) may be developed in the future, if requested by ESCAVI.

Derived products (Box 11) are not part of the main NVIS database, but should comply with standards outlined in Box 1. In response to the requirements of users, NVIS data are typically combined with external knowledge and/or datasets to analyse vegetation information. Major Vegetation Groups and the analyses of fragmentation are examples of derived products in the Australian Native Vegetation Assessment 2001 (NLWRA, 2001).

Figure 1
Figure 1: National Vegetation Information System Framework. Boxes 2 to 7 are the subject of this manual; their colours are consistent with Figure 4 and Appendix C. The arrows are indicative of the main links between components. In general, the input standards are on the left of the diagram, the main components of NVIS are in the centre and output products are on the right of the diagram

Scope of this Manual

In general, the Australian Vegetation Attributes Manual is a guide to the capture, interpretation and management of existing and new vegetation information into a Relational Database Management System. Its primary purpose is to link the vegetation descriptions to map units (map legend information) in a Geographic Information System (GIS). The Manual provides nationally agreed guidelines for translating and compiling mapped vegetation datasets into the NVIS database through describing the NVIS attribute framework and links to the NVIS database.

This document is not intended to be a guide for the collection of vegetation data in the field. Whilst the attributes are heavily based on those designed for site surveys of vegetation, the reader is referred to Walker and Hopkins (1990) for guidance on specific attributes to collect at sites in the field. Gunn et al (1988) and Margules & Austin (1991) give useful methodological guidelines for vegetation survey and mapping. This Manual is about how to translate, compile and manage the complex results of such surveys as an adjunct to GIS queries and displays.

The analysis of vegetation information is beyond the scope of this publication. However, the information products listed in the Background, above, give the reader an idea of the actual and potential benefits of the NVIS Framework.

The NVIS Database

The NVIS Database V2.0 (NLWRA, 2000b & c) was developed to operationalise Version 5.0 of this Manual and to assist the data custodians to translate and compile existing State and Territory vegetation data sets into the NVIS Framework. The structure of this Manual (i.e. version 6.0) reflects the current structure of the NVIS database (Fig. 4 and Appendix C).

An XML transfer protocol, based on the Australian Vegetation Attributes Manual Version 6.0, is being developed to assist with checking, compiling and transferring datasets from the respective State and Territory databases, that are implementing the NVIS framework (see Section 4).

Recent Developments

The Audit (NLWRA) was instrumental in ensuring that the progress with the vegetation theme was continued. In April 2001, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Environment Australia (EA) and Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Australia (AFFA) for the ongoing development of NVIS. This included the maintenance of the Stage One NVIS database by EA and the funding of Stage Two activities by the Bureau of Rural Sciences.

Since the NVIS (2000) dataset was compiled, several national workshops have been held to further plan and develop the NVIS framework, to restructure and improve the quality of the Stage One database and to implement the distributed maintenance of NVIS data. In particular, this Manual reflects the agreed restructuring to improve efficiency and consistency of the NVIS database. Version 6.0 of the Australian Vegetation Attribute Manual represents the consolidation of changes and refinements made since June 2000 by the NVIS collaborators. These included vegetation stakeholder feedback workshops in each State and Territory in 2001, national NVIS workshops in March 2002, November 2002 and mini-workshops in December 2001 and July 2002. The participants involved in developing the vegetation attributes are provided in Appendix E.

This Manual describes the NVIS vegetation attributes, from the highest level of Dataset Information through to the species and growth forms recorded in each (sub-)stratum* at NVIS level VI (Sub-Association level). Standard concepts and procedures are outlined in Section 2. Vegetation attributes are defined and described in Section 3.

The development of the vegetation attributes for the NVIS is a dynamic process that is responsive to improvements resulting from testing and trialling their application. Therefore it anticipated that this Manual would be further updated to document future refinements. See Appendix F for a history of the NVIS Versions V1.0 - V6.0 and Appendix G for a summary of changes to NVIS attributes from V5.0 - V6.0.

*= The notation (sub-)stratum should be read as sub-stratum and/or stratum, which are the names of the standard layers at Levels VI and V, respectively.