Ecosystems and Vegetation

Ecosystems in Victoria are recognised by the vegetation they support.  There may be characteristic animal species and physical attributes of the landscape but it is the structure of the plant life forms and how they grow together that are the things people recognise and have given rise to ecosystem nomenclature and description.  Terms like forest, woodland, heathland, grassland and marsh predate the systematic nomenclature for plant and animal species and whatever classification is erected for ecosystem names, these words almost invariably find their way into the framework.  One problem with this is that the names were never precise, never unambiguously defined, often overlapped, and varied in their meaning from place to place.  So using them in a formal nomenclature has its difficulties.

The Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) has made a substantial attempt to create such a formalised nomenclature for Victorian ecosystems and has used floristic survey data as the baseline for its classification.  This baseline, which began with floristic units called communities (a term which has legislative significance in the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act - FFG), has been amalgamated into broader units called Ecological Vegetation Classes (EVCs) that are further adjusted using structural, floristic and geographic characters.  Most of these units have been mapped and are available on the DSE website.

This page takes a step back from the detailed and formalised classification to provide some background information on the major ecosystems in Victoria that can be recognised by the non-professional.  The terms used here are, for the most part, not those of the EVCs but arise from common usage, some of which have been superseded by new and more complex names.  Nevertheless there is a consistency with the EVC classification in that most ecosystem groups can be represented by several EVCs and there are few EVC definitions that cross the boundaries between any of these ecosystems.


Alpine Alpine
The alpine and sub-alpine ecosystems in Victoria are confined to the Eastern Highlands mostly above 1300 m. [more]
Mallee Mallee
Is found on flat to undulating landscapes on sandy, heavy clay or rocky calcareous soils in north-western Victoria [more
Wet Sclerophyll Forest Wet Sclerophyll Forest
Is found on deep soils of sheltered hillsides 600-1200 m above sea level with rainfall above 1100 mm a year. [more]
Black Box Woodland Black Box Woodland
Is found on flat to slightly undulating landscapes on alluvial soils in north-west Victoria. [more
Damp Sclerophyll Forest Damp Sclerophyll Forest
Is the most widespread and variable forest ecosystem in the state. [more]
Pine-Buloke Woodland Pine-Buloke Woodland
Is found on more or less flat landscapes on sandy-loam soils, over a calcareous substrate, in north-west Victoria. [more
Dry Sclerophyll Forest Dry Sclerophyll Forest
Is found on a range of loam and shallow rocky soils of exposed hillsides, mostly between 200 and 1000 m. [more]
Heathland Heathland 
Is found on flat to gently undulating, acidic, nutrient-poor sandy soils in southern and western Victoria. [more]
Riparian Forest Riparian Forest
Is found in narrow strips along the sheltered banks of rivers over a wide altitude range. [more
Grassland Grassland
Is found in flat country at low altitudes in low to medium rainfall areas on relatively nutrient-rich soils. [more]
Box-Ironbark Forest Box-Ironbark Forest
Is found on flat to undulating landscapes on rocky, auriferous soils, mainly in central Victoria
. [more
Banksia Woodland Banksia Woodland
Is found on flat to gently undulating, sandy soils in near-coastal regions of southern and eastern Victoria. [more]
Rainforest Rainforest
Is dominated by a dense tree canopy over climbers, broad-leafed shrubs, tree-ferns, epiphytic ferns, ground ferns and small herbs. [more]
Coastal Scrub Coastal Scrub
Is found on primary sand dunes or coastal limestone soils from 0 to 200 m above sea level. [more
Red Gum Red Gum
Is found in flat country at low altitudes, with low to medium rainfall near watercourses or on soils subject to periodic floods. [more]
Saltmarsh Saltmarsh
Is found on intertidal mud-flats in southern, eastern and far-western Victoria. [more