Braun-Blanquet's legacy and data analysis in vegetation science



Abstract. This article investigates whether the Braun-Blanquet abundance/dominance (AD) scores that commonly appear in phytosociological tables can properly be analysed by conventional multivariate analysis methods such as Principal Components Analysis and Correspondence Analysis. The answer is a definite NO. The source of problems is that the AD values express species performance on a scale, namely the ordinal scale, on which differences are not interpretable. There are several arguments suggesting that no matter which methods have been preferred in contemporary numerical syntaxonomy and why, ordinal data should be treated in an ordinal way. In addition to the inadmissibility of arithmetic operations with the AD scores, these arguments include interpretability of dissimilarities derived from ordinal data, consistency of all steps throughout the analysis and universality of the method which enables simultaneous treatment of various measurement scales. All the ordination methods that are commonly used, for example, Principal Components Analysis and all variants of Correspondence Analysis as well as standard cluster analyses such as Ward's method and group average clustering, are inappropriate when using AD data. Therefore, the application of ordinal clustering and scaling methods to traditional phytosociological data is advocated. Dissimilarities between relevés should be calculated using ordinal measures of resemblance, and ordination and clustering algorithms should also be ordinal in nature. A good ordination example is Non-metric Multidimensional Scaling (NMDS) as long as it is calculated from an ordinal dissimilarity measure such as the Goodman & Kruskal γ coefficient, and for clustering the new OrdClAn-H and OrdClAn-N methods.