The concept of potential natural vegetation: an epitaph?


  • Chiarucci, A. (corresponding author, BIOCONNET, BIOdiversity and CONservation NETwork, Department of Environmental Science “G. Sarfatti”, University of Siena, Italy.
    Araújo, M. B. ( Department of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology, National Museum of Natural Sciences, CSIC, Madrid, Spain.
    Araújo, M. B.: Rui Nabeiro Biodiversity Chair, CIBIO, University of Évora, Évora, Portugal.
    Decocq, G. ( Plant Biodiversity Lab (JE 2532 DSA), Jules Verne University of Picardy, Amiens, France.
    Beierkuhnlein, C. ( Department of Biogeography, University of Bayreuth, Germany. Fernández-Palacios, J. M. ( Department of Ecology, La Laguna University, Tenerife, Spain.

  • Co-ordinating Editor: Bastow Wilson.


We discuss the usefulness of the concept of Potential Natural Vegetation (PNV), which describes the expected state of mature vegetation in the absence of human intervention. We argue that it is impossible to model PNV because of (i) the methodological problems associated to its definition and (ii) the issues related to the ecosystems dynamics.We conclude that the approach to characterizing PNV is unrealistic and provides scenarios with limited predictive power. In places with a long-term human history, interpretations of PNV need to be very cautious, and explicit acknowledgement made of the limitations inherent in available data.