NSW plant community type classification

Plant community types (PCTs) are widely used to support biodiversity assessment, conservation planning and land management activities.

Plant community types are the finest level in the NSW vegetation classification hierarchy. They identify and describe recurring patterns of native plant species assemblages in relation to environmental conditions such as soil, temperature, moisture and other factors. Their floristic composition is characterised by frequently co-occurring species, including combinations of trees, shrubs and/or ground cover plants.

Plant community types play a central role in the NSW Biodiversity Offsets Scheme. Assessments of biodiversity values hinge on the identification of PCTs when using the Biodiversity Assessment Method.

They are defined and mapped across New South Wales. PCT data are managed as part of the Integrated BioNet Vegetation Data program.

Latest news

  • An update of the classification was released in December 2023 (version C2.0), including updates to plant community types of eastern New South Wales (coast and tablelands bioregions) in response to new plot data.
  • The Plot to PCT Assignment Tool is updated to incorporate version C2.0, improving the reliability of identification for quantitative plant community types in eastern New South Wales using standard floristic survey plot data.
  • Information is available about the introduction of revised plant community types in eastern New South Wales to the Biodiversity Offsets Scheme here.

The list of plant community types (PCTs) for New South Wales is centrally managed by the department in BioNet.

In version C2.0 of the PCT master list there are 1,846 approved PCTs.

Each PCT has a unique name and identification number. A summary list of PCT names, numbers and other data is available by clicking ‘download’ on the BioNet plant community type data page. The complete set of description data is available in the BioNet Vegetation Classification application.

Changes to the PCT master list are carefully managed and generally occur in an annual update or when a major revision has been completed.

When a PCT is replaced by a new type(s), it is no longer in use and is termed ‘decommissioned’. Decommissioned PCTs remain visible in the BioNet Vegetation Classification application. Information is recorded in the application to track the relationships between decommissioned (old) and approved (new) PCTs. These are known as lineage transformations.

Visit the PCT change control webpage for more information about lineage transformations.

Send questions or feedback about the PCT master list to BioNet.

Plant community type (PCT) classification data and maps are accessible from a growing number of applications, which all draw from BioNet.

The BioNet Vegetation Classification application offers a range of search, filter and export functions. Each PCT has standard attributes that describe species composition, habitat, distribution, relationships to higher levels in the vegetation classification hierarchy and other information. See more information about the BioNet Vegetation Classification application.

For eastern New South Wales, PCT reference plot locations are available in the Flora surveys module of the BioNet Atlas application and via the SEED portal. For a short demonstration on how to access floristic survey plots in SEED, view this video (Vimeo).

Classification data can also be accessed via BioNet web services. A refreshable spreadsheet with a pre-configured connection to description data is available to download from the PCT data page. Refreshable spreadsheets containing a list of species recorded in each PCT are available to download on the quantitative PCT taxon data page (for eastern New South Wales), and the qualitative PCT taxon data page (for central and western New South Wales).

PCTs are mapped in the NSW State Vegetation Type Map. This shows their pre-clearing extent and current distribution. Some PCTs are not represented in the map for various reasons. The map records the version number of the PCT master list used. Access maps from the SEED portal and the Trees Near Me NSW app.

The Plot to PCT Assignment Tool is available to assess PCT choices using standard floristic survey plot data in eastern New South Wales. For more information visit the Plot to PCT Assignment Tool webpage.

Plant community types (PCTs) are defined using the best available information. Classification methods vary between eastern and western New South Wales, but together aim to provide a comprehensive set of types that describe fine scale patterns in native vegetation.

In eastern New South Wales, PCTs are defined from a large statistical analysis of floristic survey plots held in BioNet Atlas. PCTs that have member plots defined in BioNet are known as 'quantitative' PCTs. They apply explicit data-driven methods and rules and have transparent and easily accessible relationships to reference plot locations. Detailed technical documents describing the classification methods for eastern New South Wales are available in the tab 'Technical documents' below.

In western New South Wales, PCTs predominantly adopt the framework and units of Benson (Benson 2006, Benson et al. 2006, Benson 2008, and Benson et al. 2010). This work overcame the scarcity of vegetation data in the region at the time by synthesising existing literature, maps and available data, as well as field checking, to assemble units of similar scale. These PCTs do not have member plots defined in BioNet, and are known as ‘qualitative’ PCTs.

When an adequate coverage of standard floristic survey plot data is captured for western New South Wales, the department intends to extend quantitative PCT classification methods to the region.

Vegetation surveys provide the primary data on which the plant community type (PCT) classification is built. Increasingly, standard floristic survey methods are applied across New South Wales, enabling classification to be supported by large computer-based statistical analyses. 

A large collection of existing floristic survey plot data is available in the Flora surveys module of the BioNet Atlas application and is used in the definition of quantitative PCTs in eastern New South Wales.

New standard floristic survey plot data, collected and added to BioNet Atlas, forms the basis for undertaking PCT revisions. Vegetation surveys are completed for a wide range of purposes, including implementation of the Biodiversity Assessment Method or to target poorly surveyed regions and locations. Wherever standard floristic survey plot data are collected and entered into BioNet Atlas they can be combined to enable ongoing improvements to PCT classification.

In eastern New South Wales, an online Plot to PCT Assignment Tool provides a standardised repeatable statistically-driven method for accurate plot-based identification of plant community types (PCTs).

For western New South Wales, and for users without standard floristic survey plots, the data, maps and applications described in the ‘How to access data and maps’ tab above can be used in combination to shortlist PCTs. The BioNet Vegetation Classification application has a filter tool that enables users to shortlist PCTs based on geographic, floristic and other criteria.

Threatened Ecological Communities (TECs) are legal entities that are independently listed under provisions in the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 or the Commonwealth's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Independent scientific committees oversee the listing processes in each jurisdiction.

TECs are defined using an assemblage of species and an area, and not all are plant assemblages.

Associations between plant community types (PCTs) and TECs are recorded in the BioNet Vegetation Classification application. These associations are based on an interpretation of the components of each TEC, as only a small number of TECs cite a PCT directly. The principles used to identify PCTTEC relationships in eastern New South Wales are available in Appendix E and F of Updating BioNet plant community types: eastern New South Wales PCT Classification Version 1.1 (2022).

PCTs are either not associated with a TEC, are partly associated with a TEC, or are entirely associated with a TEC. Qualifying statements are often required to indicate the components of a PCT, either distribution or floristic attributes, that meet the TEC definition. Qualifying statements are stored in the ‘TEC Comments’ field in the BioNet Vegetation Classification application and are important to consider when using the PCTTEC association data.

Multiple PCTs may meet the definition of a single TEC where the TEC applies to widely distributed plant assemblages and habitats. A refreshable spreadsheet containing TEC to PCT association data is available to download here.

Classification of plant community types (PCTs) relies on standard floristic survey plot data, sampling the range of vegetation communities across the state.

The best way to contribute to the development and ongoing refinement of PCTs is to collect high quality standard full floristic survey plot data, such as when using the Biodiversity Assessment Method, and enter them into the Flora surveys module of BioNet Atlas.

Watch the short video on Vimeo: How to contribute systematic flora survey records to BioNet Atlas.

Send any questions or feedback about PCT classification, including suggestions for corrections to the PCT master list, to BioNet.