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Terrestrial ecological systems are specifically defined as a group of plant community types (associations) that tend to co-occur within landscapes with similar ecological processes, substrates, and/or environmental gradients. A given system will typically manifest itself in a landscape at intermediate geographic scales of tens to thousands of hectares and will persist for 50 or more years. This temporal scale allows typical successional dynamics to be integrated into the concept of each unit. With these temporal and spatial scales bounding the concept of ecological systems, we then integrate multiple ecological factors—or diagnostic classifiers—to define each classification unit. The multiple ecological factors are evaluated and combined in different ways to explain the spatial co-occurrence of plant associations.
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