This paper describes the use of supervised methods for the classification of vegetation. The difference between supervised classification and clustering is outlined, with reference to their current use in vegetation science. In the paper we describe the classification of Danish grasslands according to the Habitats Directive of the European Union, and demonstrate how a supervised classification can be used to achieve a standardized and statistical interpretation within a local flora. We thereby offer a statistical solution to the legal problem of protection of certain selected habitat types. The Habitats Directive protects three types of Danish grassland habitats, whereas two remaining types fall outside protection. A classification model is developed, using available Danish grassland data, for the discrimination of these five types based on their species composition. This new Habitats Directive classification is compared to a previously published unsupervised classification of Danish grassland vegetation. An indicator species analysis is used to find significant indicator species for the three protected habitat types in Denmark, and these are compared to the characteristic species mentioned in the interpretation manual of the Habitats Directive. Eventually, we discuss the pros and cons of supervised and unsupervised classification and conclude that supervised methods deserve more attention in vegetation science.
Abbreviations: DCA = Detrended Correspondence Analysis; CCA = Canonical Correspondence Analysis; CVA = Canonical Variates Analysis; HD = Habitats Directive; TWINSPAN = Two-way indicator species analysis.
Nomenclature: Tutin et al. (1964–1993).