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Behavior of Vegetation Sampling Methods in the Presence of Spatial Autocorrelation

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Spatial autocorrelation in vegetation has been discussed extensively, but little is yet known about how standard plant sampling methods perform when confronted with varying levels of patchiness. Simulated species maps with a range of total abundance and spatial autocorrelation (patchiness) were sampled using four methods: strip transect, randomly located quadrats, the non-nested multiscale modified Whittaker plot and the nested multiscale North Carolina Vegetation Survey (NCVS) plot. Cover and frequency estimates varied widely within and between methods, especially in the presence of high patchiness and for species with moderate abundances. Transect sampling showed the highest variability, returning estimates of 19-94% cover for a species with an actual cover of 50%. Transect and random methods were likely to miss rare species entirely unless large numbers of quadrats were sampled. NCVS plots produced the most accurate cover estimates because they sampled the largest area. Total species richness calculated using semilog species-area curves was overestimated by transect and random sampling. Both multiscale methods, the modified Whittaker and the NCVS plots, overestimated species richness when patchiness was low, and underestimated it when patchiness was high. There was no clear distinction between the nested NCVS or the non-nested modified Whittaker plot for any of the measures assessed. For all sampling methods, cover and especially frequency estimates were highly variable, and depended on both the level of autocorrelation and the sampling method used. The spatial structure of the vegetation must be considered when choosing field sampling protocols or comparing results between studies that used different methods.
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Behavior of vegetation sampling methods in the presence of spatial
autocorrelation
Sarah C. Goslee
USDA-ARS Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit, Bldg. 3702 Curtin Road, Uni-
versity Park, PA 16802, USA; (e-mail: Sarah.Goslee@ars.usda.gov; phone: +814-863-0887; fax: +814-
863-0935)
Received 5 March 2004; accepted in revised form 25 February 2005
Key words: Cover, Frequency, Modified Whittaker plot, North Carolina Vegetation Survey, Species-area
curves, Transect
Abstract
Spatial autocorrelation in vegetation has been discussed extensively, but little is yet known about how
standard plant sampling methods perform when confronted with varying levels of patchiness. Simulated
species maps with a range of total abundance and spatial autocorrelation (patchiness) were sampled using
four methods: strip transect, randomly located quadrats, the non-nested multiscale modified Whittaker plot
and the nested multiscale North Carolina Vegetation Survey (NCVS) plot. Cover and frequency estimates
varied widely within and between methods, especially in the presence of high patchiness and for species with
moderate abundances. Transect sampling showed the highest variability, returning estimates of 19–94%
cover for a species with an actual cover of 50%. Transect and random methods were likely to miss rare
species entirely unless large numbers of quadrats were sampled. NCVS plots produced the most accurate
cover estimates because they sampled the largest area. Total species richness calculated using semilog
species-area curves was overestimated by transect and random sampling. Both multiscale methods, the
modified Whittaker and the NCVS plots, overestimated species richness when patchiness was low, and
underestimated it when patchiness was high. There was no clear distinction between the nested NCVS or
the non-nested modified Whittaker plot for any of the measures assessed. For all sampling methods, cover
and especially frequency estimates were highly variable, and depended on both the level of autocorrelation
and the sampling method used. The spatial structure of the vegetation must be considered when choosing
field sampling protocols or comparing results between studies that used different methods.
Introduction
Early ecologists assumed that vegetation was uni-
form, or oriented along a simple gradient, and
designed their sampling methods accordingly
(Greig-Smith 1979; Legendre and Fortin 1989).
Methods employing a series of equally-sized
quadrats, whether placed systematically or
randomly located, were widely used. The major
concerns were with the number, size and shape of
quadrats needed to characterize a particular veg-
etation type (Clapham 1932; Cain 1938; Rice and
Kelting 1955). Ecologists now realize that most if
not all communities are spatially structured, and
that sampling and analysis methods must be ro-
bust to varying levels of spatial autocorrelation as
Plant Ecology (2006) 187:203–212 Springer 2006
DOI 10.1007/s11258-005-3495-x
expressed by patchiness in the underlying species
distributions (Levin 1992; Legendre 1993).
Most practitioners now realize that spatial
autocorrelation interferes with standard statistical
tests, and are familiar with statistical methods to
overcome this complication (e.g. Dale and Fortin
2002; Legendre et al. 2002). Considerable effort
has been devoted to developing sampling designs
and statistical techniques to detect and quantify
spatial pattern, especially as it relates to the mea-
surement of species diversity (Fortin et al. 1989;
Dutilleul 1993; Bellehumeur and Legendre 1998;
Legendre et al. 2002). Although the potential
importance of spatial autocorrelation in field
sampling has been acknowledged (Stohlgren et al.
1995), little quantitative information is available
about the effect of patchiness in vegetation on the
measurement of common community attributes.
Ecologists continue to debate the appropriate
shape of sampling areas, but attention has shifted
to sampling schemes that incorporate subplots of a
range of sizes. Multiscale methods are better-sui-
ted to patchy environments, and reduce or elimi-
nate concerns about choosing the appropriate
spatial resolution (Peet et al. 1998). The increased
use of multiscale methods reflects interest in pat-
terns of species richness and abundance at different
scales (Stohlgren et al. 1995; Peet et al. 1998). Both
nested plot designs, with overlapping subquadrats,
and non-nested plot designs have been proposed.
The modified Whittaker plot, developed by
Stohlgren et al. (1995), is a widely-adopted non-
nested method. All subplots are contained within
the outermost sample region, but there is no
overlap between other subplots, so I have de-
scribed this as ‘non-nested’ even though it is truly
minimally nested (Figure 1a). The NCVS uses a
nested multiscale design with complete overlap
between subplots of different sizes (Figure 1b; Peet
et al. 1998). These newer methodologies have been
developed to match advances in our understanding
of the nature of spatial structure in vegetation, but
both systematic and random quadrat methods are
still widely used, especially when little is known in
advance about the structure of the vegetation
(Legendre et al. 2002).
Although multiscale designs are intended to
address spatial patterning in vegetation, there has
been little systematic comparison of their benefits
in the presence of varying levels of autocorrela-
tion. There have been a number of studies com-
paring aspects of the performance of vegetation
sampling methods under field conditions, but none
have explicitly examined autocorrelation (e.g.
Bourdeau 1953; Stohlgren et al. 1998; Barnett and
Stohlgren 2003; Korb et al. 2003; Leis et al. 2003).
Instead of repeating these trials with field data, I
chose to use simulated species distributions. Un-
like field sampling, with simulated data the level of
autocorrelation, the abundance of each species
and the actual number of species are known ex-
actly, so the performance of each sampling design
under a range of conditions can be assessed.
The main objective of this study was to compare
species cover and species frequency estimated by
four methods, two quadrat (random and system-
atic) and two multiscale (nested and non-nested),
given plant species of different size, abundance,
and level of spatial autocorrelation. A secondary
objective was to examine the effects of autocorre-
lation on species-area curves and estimates of total
richness. This information provides a baseline for
comparison of results from studies using different
methods, and for evaluating the suitability of a
particular sampling design for a variety of condi-
tions.
Methods
Four sampling methods were selected:
systematically-located quadrats, randomly-located
quadrats, a non-nested multiscale and a nested
multiscale scheme. The systematic quadrat method
used a strip transect of 1 ·1 m quadrats running
the length of the simulated area, for a total of fifty
1m
2
quadrats. The start point of the transect was
randomly chosen. The random method used the
same size and number of quadrats, but they were
placed randomly with no overlap. Species cover
was recorded for each quadrat.
The non-nested design used was the modified
Whittaker plot (Figure 1a; Stohlgren et al. 1995).
The total area sampled was 20 ·50 m. Species
cover was recorded within ten 2 ·0.5 m quadrats.
Species presence was recorded for progressively
larger rectangular plots: two of 2 ·5 m, one of
5·20 m, and a final plot of 20 ·50 m that
encompassed all the smaller plots.
The NCVS design was a nested design that
covered the same total area as the modified
Whittaker plot, but divided the area differently
204
(Figure 1b; Peet et al. 1998). The entire 50 ·20 m
area was divided into ten 10 ·10 m plots, in which
cover was recorded. Four of these plots contained
two sets of square nested subplots with areas of 10,
1, 0.1, and 0.01 m
2
. Species presence was recorded
for these subplots.
Simulations
The gstat package for R was used to simulate
species distributions with varying spatial autocor-
relations, revealed as patchiness in the distribution
of individuals (Pebesma 2001, 2004; R 1.8, R
Project for Statistical Computing). The spatial
correlation was quantified by an exponential
variogram model, and ten levels of patchiness were
created by varying the effective range (range = 0,
2, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 35, 50, 100). The variogram was
used as the basis for an unconditional kriging
simulation at gridded prediction locations. The
sequential gaussian simulation algorithm in the
gstat package was used to generate multiple real-
izations at the grid notes. The resulting continuous
variables were sliced to create simulated species
with one of eight possible levels of abundance by
defining all grid cells less than the cutoff value to
be occupied, and the remainder to be vacant
(abundance = 0.1, 1, 5, 10, 25, 50, 75, 90% cover).
For binary samples such as these derived presence/
absence grids, the level of spatial autocorrelation
or patchiness is shown by ‘clumping’ of the species
distributions across the simulated area (Figure 2).
The vegetation sampling schemes consisted of
plots and subplots of predetermined sizes, so a
scale had to be imposed on the simulated data. A
grid cell or pixel is the lower limit of resolution of
the sampling (the minimum size of a plant). Pre-
liminary simulations using a range of resolutions
(grain sizes of 1–20 pixels/m), conducted by sim-
Figure 1. Multiscale sampling methods. (a) Modified Whittaker plot sampling method (Stohlgren et al. 1995). Cover is estimated
within ten 1 m
2
quadrats, and species lists are recorded for each of the larger plots. (b) North Carolina Vegetation Survey (Peet et al.
1998) scheme. Cover is recorded within ten 100 m
2
plots, and species lists are recorded for each of the smaller subplots.
205
ulating a 20 ·50 m grid of the appropriate number
of pixels, demonstrated that varying the plant size
within this range made little difference to the pat-
terning of the simulated vegetation, so only the
results of the 10 pixel/m simulations are presented
here (plants with a minimum size of 10 ·10 cm).
The grid used was thus 200 ·500 pixels, since the
maximum size of a sampling plot was 20 ·50 m.
The single-species simulations used 10 levels of
patchiness and 8 species abundances (80 combi-
nations), and each had 100 repetitions. The four
sampling methods were applied to each, so that
total frequency and total cover as estimated by
each could be compared to the actual values.
Simulated species were combined into ‘commu-
nities’ by randomly selecting two species from each
abundance level for a given level of autocorrela-
tion. This process resulted in fifty sets with 16
species of varying abundance but identical levels of
patchiness. For the random and transect data, the
cumulative species richness curve was used to
estimate total richness in the 20 ·50 m area.
Species-area curves were calculated from the sub-
plots of the modified Whittaker and NCVS
schemes, and again used to estimate total species
richness. Both semilog [richness log(area)] and
log-log [log(richness)log(area)] forms of the
species area curve were calculated.
Figure 2. Simulated species distributions with 10% abundance and ten levels of autocorrelation (patchiness) determined by the range
value for an exponential variogram.
206
Results and discussion
The NCVS plot provided a perfect mean cover
estimate because cover is measured across the
entire area (mean of ten 100 m
2
quadrats). The
transect and random sample estimates are the
means of fifty 1 m
2
quadrats, and the modified
Whittaker estimate is the mean of ten 1 m
2
quadrats. If no spatial autocorrelation is present,
these three methods give equivalent values with
high accuracy and precision, as shown in
Figure 3a. As the level of patchiness increases,
the range of the species cover estimates also in-
creases. Transect sampling was most affected by
autocorrelation; species with a high autocorrela-
tion and true abundance of 50% had measured
cover of 19–94% from fifty quadrats (Figure 3b).
Random sampling was less affected, with a range
of 36–64%. Because it only samples ten 1 m
2
quadrats, the modified Whittaker plot produced
less-accurate cover estimates than the random
sample, although it did perform better than the
transect sample (range 28–76%). When only ten
quadrats from the random and transect samples
were considered instead of all fifty, the modified
Whittaker plot and the random samples pro-
vided similar estimates of cover, and both
were much more accurate than the transect
sample.
Frequency estimates were more affected by the
level of patchiness than by sampling method.
Estimates from transect sampling had the greatest
variability, followed by random and modified
Whittaker, and NCVS estimates were the most
precise (Figure 4). Frequency estimates from
NCVS sampling tended to be higher than those
obtained by other methods because of the larger
size of the subplots.
Figure 3. Comparison of strip transect, random quadrat, modified Whittaker plot and North Carolina Vegetation Survey sampling
methods at low (range = 0) and high (range = 100) levels of autocorrelation for four levels of species abundance.
207
Rather than present similar data for all four
methods, I chose random sampling as representa-
tive of the effects of autocorrelation on measured
plant frequency (Figure 5). The more uniform the
distribution, the higher the frequency. With no
autocorrelation, all species with abundance >10%
had a measured frequency of one using any
method. At very high abundances, the frequency
was near one regardless of the autocorrelation,
while the frequency estimates for low and moder-
ately abundant species varied widely. The effects of
spatial autocorrelation on apparent cover and
frequency were most pronounced at intermediate
abundances, since 0 and 100% provide hard limits
on plant cover. Rare species are unlikely to be
found regardless of the sampling method or spatial
distribution, while abundant species will always be
found.
The format of the modified Whittaker and
NCVS plots is fixed, but researchers often choose a
certain number of quadrats for random and tran-
sect sampling. Simulation results can help to
choose an appropriate number of quadrats
(Table 1). Random sampling is slightly more effi-
cient than transect sampling, but both are poor at
locating rare species, especially if any autocorre-
lation is present. With random sampling from a
species distribution based on a variogram with
range = 20 and an abundance of 1%, at least 30
quadrats are required to have a 95% chance of
encountering that species, and with transect sam-
pling at least 47 quadrats are required. Both
methods will find common species, even with few
quadrats. The numbers of quadrats needed to find
rare species are higher than often used to sample
an area of 20 ·50 m, suggesting that these meth-
ods seriously underestimate species richness. Field
studies support this conclusion; Jorgensen and
Tunnell (2001) found that quadrat methods missed
up to 30% of the plant species in their test area.
The multiscale plots can be used to estimate
frequency at a range of spatial scales (Figure 6).
Frequencies are always lower in smaller subplots,
and patchiness has the greatest effect on the
smallest subplots. The only exception is the
0.01 m
2
subplot of the NCVS scheme. This is the
same size as the pixel used in the simulations, so
frequency at this scale approximates the species
abundance. Similarly-sized subplots follow the
same curves for both modified Whittaker and
NCVS sampling schemes.
Log-log species area curves substantially
underestimated the number of species in 1000 m
2
,
so only semi-log curves will be considered further.
Cumulative richness curves from both transect and
random plots overestimated the number of species
in a 1000 m
2
area, especially at moderate and high
levels of autocorrelation (Figure 7). This was
Figure 4. The range of measured frequencies obtained by using strip transect, random quadrat, modified Whittaker plot and North
Carolina Vegetation Survey sampling methods on simulated species with high autocorrelation level and two levels of abundance.
208
expected, since it is known that species-area curves
constructed by aggregating samples have a higher
slope, and thus overestimate total richness (Ro-
senzweig 1995). Although the shape of the re-
sponse was somewhat different, both of the
multiscale sampling schemes overestimated the
total species richness at low autocorrelations, but
underestimated it at high levels. For both, a uni-
form species distribution led to a species-area
curve with low slope but high intercept, since even
the smallest plots found most species. With high
autocorrelation the slope was steeper but the
intercept was much lower.
The ‘communities’ used for calculating species
area curves are not representative of actual com-
munities. Usually there are a few abundant species
and many rare species, rather than equal numbers
across a range of abundances. Each species was
randomly distributed with respect to all other
simulated species, and all had the same level of
autocorrelation. In actual plant communities,
species distributions may show positive and neg-
ative associations and the effects of environmental
heterogeneity. The objective of this study was to
evaluate the effects of autocorrelation, not
hypotheses about the structure of plant commu-
nities, so this simplified community structure was
appropriate.
The modified Whittaker plot was the only
method examined with rectangular rather than
square quadrats. Preliminary investigation showed
that for this simulation study, plot shape made
little difference. In the presence of anisotropy, such
as an underlying environmental gradient, plot
shape could have a strong effect on observed
vegetation characteristics.
The choice of nested or non-nested plots has
been debated in the literature. The only differences
between the nested NCVS and the non-nested
modified Whittaker plots that were not attribut-
able to differing subplot sizes was in the species-
area curve predictions of total richness. Stohlgren
et al. (1995) stated that spatial autocorrelation has
a larger effect on overlapping subplots because a
Figure 5. The range of frequency estimates produced by random sampling of simulated species with four abundance levels at a range
of autocorrelation levels.
209
particular area is sampled more than once. Peet
et al. (1998) made the identical claim in reverse,
stating that the use of non-overlapping plots
ignores spatial autocorrelation in vegetation. The
simulation results here suggest that the two
methods do respond differently to spatial
Table 1. The number of quadrats (maximum of 50) needed to have at least a 95% chance of encountering a species with given
abundance and distribution.
Autocorrelation Species abundance (%)
0.1 1 5 10 25 50 75 90
a. Transect
0 27 3111111
2 46 5211111
5 –14541111
10 –28963211
15 48 16 12 4 1 1 1
20 47 24 14 9 4 1 1
25 – 32 15 6 3 1 1
35 – 38 23 10 3 2 1
50 – 38 30 14 6 4 1
100 – –4227134 1
b. Random
0 23 3111111
2 – 5211111
5 –13432111
10 –16642111
15 29 10 5 3 2 1 1
20 30 10 7 3 2 1 1
25 39 15 7 3 2 1 1
35 48 13 10 4 3 1 1
50 – 19 10 5 2 1 1
100 – 22 11 6 3 2 1
A dash marks denote species which were not found after sampling 50 quadrats.
Figure 6. Frequency estimates produced by sampling at different spatial scales using the modified Whittaker and North Carolina
Vegetation Survey schemes for species with 10% actual abundance.
210
autocorrelation, but that the differences are negli-
gible in anisotropic environments. It is more
important to note that both methods overestimate
species richness in vegetation with low autocorre-
lation, but underestimate it with high autocorre-
lation.
The findings from this simulation study on cover
and frequency estimates accord with what is known
from field experiments. All sampling methods
encounter dominant species, but random and
transect methods are more likely to miss rare species
than methods that cover a larger area (Bourdeau
1953; Stohlgren et al. 1998; Jorgensen and Tunnell
2001; Barnett and Stohlgren 2003; Korb et al. 2003).
The drawback is that larger multiscale methods are
slower to lay out and sample in the field (Stohlgren
et al. 1998; Korb et al. 2003).
Conclusions
In vegetation, the degree of underlying spatial
autocorrelation is expressed by patchiness in the
species distribution, and can be modeled by vary-
ing the effective range of the variogram used as the
basis for a kriging simulation. Using simulated
species distributions to test the choice of sampling
method demonstrated that transect methods
especially responded poorly to spatial autocorre-
lation. Randomly-located quadrats were more
efficient in highly patchy environments, but large
numbers of quadrats are needed for either method
if rare species must be located. Multiscale methods
were more robust to spatial autocorrelation, and
more effective at identifying rare species because of
the larger proportion of the total area sampled.
Cover and especially frequency estimates were
highly variable, and depended on both the level of
autocorrelation and the sampling method used. It
is difficult to meaningfully compare community
attributes obtained by different methods, and un-
der certain circumstances sampled results may
have little resemblance to actual values.
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... For example, small plots that employ grid-intercept point methods may be more appropriate for acrocarpous, cushion-forming mosses than for pleurocarpous mosses, because the latter have a sparser growth form, even though they may combine to make a substantial proportion of the total moss cover in the plot (Bates, 1982). Truly random or systematic sample unit distribution may only be appropriate for very homogeneous vegetation; the presence of heterogeneity suggests some form of stratification should be used (Goslee, 2006;Kenkel et al., 1989). If spatial influences are suspected, nested two-dimensional %-cover sample units (i.e., plot-based), or two-dimensional, closely-spaced gridintercept sample units (i.e., point-based) will allow the variability in spatial influence to be quantified more effectively (Fortin, 1999;Goslee, 2006;Kenkel et al., 1989). ...
... Truly random or systematic sample unit distribution may only be appropriate for very homogeneous vegetation; the presence of heterogeneity suggests some form of stratification should be used (Goslee, 2006;Kenkel et al., 1989). If spatial influences are suspected, nested two-dimensional %-cover sample units (i.e., plot-based), or two-dimensional, closely-spaced gridintercept sample units (i.e., point-based) will allow the variability in spatial influence to be quantified more effectively (Fortin, 1999;Goslee, 2006;Kenkel et al., 1989). In general, sample units should be large enough to encompass the largest homogeneous patches of species of interest (e.g., single colonies of cushion-forming mosses), because this minimizes the variance among plots (Jalonen et al., 1998;Kenkel et al., 1989), but sub-samples may be used to examine variation within these patches. ...
Thesis
Full-text available
Understory flora contribute much to the biodiversity of forest ecosystems, but can be impoverished by intensive management (e.g. plantation forestry). In particular, epixylic (wood-dwelling) species can respond negatively to reductions in coarse woody debris (CWD), and to the altered mesoclimate of the understory. Modified management practices (to reduce these negative impacts) must be experimentally tested and refined based on an understanding of ecological processes. I compared the responses of understory herbaceous and epixylic communities to four treatments (unthinned or commercially thinned with moderate debris, moderate debris with snags, or no debris) in mid-rotation spruce plantations of northwestern New Brunswick. I also tested whether moisture regulation is the primary mechanism by which epixylic flora associate with CWD, by examining the relationships between substrate properties, CWD surface humidity, and cover of epixylic functional groups, and by growing bryophytes on CWD with modified moisture capacity. Both communities showed increased species richness and cover with thinning. Debris removal primarily benefited early seral herbaceous species, but negatively impacted epixylic liverworts and disturbance-sensitive mosses. Epixylic groups with water-conserving structure were most strongly associated with moisture availability, while others showed only weak relationships. The surface humidity of woody debris and the forest floor did not differ. In the growth experiment, CWD type influenced moss growth under a thinned, but not an unthinned, canopy; CWD moisture capacity was negatively related to moss growth, and natural substrates outperformed synthetic ones. Additional monitoring and experimentation is required to determine whether leaving stands unthinned, or thinning stands with moderate debris (with or without snags) is preferable for conserving biodiversity; however, debris removal appears to be detrimental. The moisture capacity of CWD is not the primary mechanism by which epixylic flora achieve high diversity and abundance; the direct effects of log properties and canopy condition are more important than those mediated through microclimate. By the precautionary principle, a diversity of CWD types and canopy conditions should be maintained in managed stands.
... If points are distributed over a sub-area (e.g., a woody patch) of the study site, then estimates will be valid for that sub-area. Researchers should consider using a quadrat with a smaller number of point intercepts and sampling over the whole study area, maintaining minimum spacing rules (see Goslee [2006] for a discussion on clumping). ...
Article
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Premise: The point-intercept method is one of the most commonly used approaches to measure species cover in ecosystems worldwide. In this approach, multiple points are sampled for presence/absence of a species, and the number of present points divided by the total number of sampled points provides an estimate of percent cover. Our purpose is to mathematically analyze the accuracy of the point-intercept approach and establish guidelines for its use. Methods: We developed formulas that analyze the point-intercept method and confirmed their effectiveness using simulations. Results: We find that a point-intercept spacing of at least 80% of the largest plant diameter provides the most reliable results. We present a user-friendly spreadsheet that calculates the number of intercepts needed for fieldwork, as well as the standard deviation, expected deviation, and confidence interval of the collected data. Discussion: We provide a variety of guidelines for establishing field protocols based on our results, including dealing with rare species and combining results for multiple species. Quadrat characteristics (intercept spacing, number of point intercepts) can now be easily calculated to guide research design prior to fieldwork; after fieldwork is complete, the accuracy of this technique can (and should) be reported in all future ecological studies in which it is used.
... This method is congruent with traditional sampling methods, such as line point intercept. It is not statistically robust since each transect is considered the sampling unit-plots near each other are spatially autocorrelated and cannot be considered independent samples (Stohlgren et al. 1998;Goslee 2006). Transects are suitable for measuring trend of representative areas but are statistically insufficient for describing a large area of interest (Coulloudon et al. 1999). ...
Technical Report
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Vegetation monitoring is integral to maintaining healthy and productive public lands. Virtually all activities on public lands have the potential to degrade native vegetation, with cascading effects of soil erosion, loss of resources, and diminishing ecosystem services. Monitoring vegetation allows land managers to recognize problems and implement management solutions in a timely manner to preserve resources and ecosystem benefits. This technical note describes ground-based image collection for vegetation monitoring, including best practices and equipment details. This technical note also describes image analysis using SamplePoint software, which produces foliar cover measurements with potential accuracy exceeding 90% (Booth et al. 2006). By acquiring and analyzing ground-based images, land managers can monitor more area during a growing season, analyze imagery during the off-season, improve statistical power through larger sample sizes, and maintain permanent records of resources. These benefits allow land managers to make more informed and defensible management decisions.
... None destructive method was used to quantify the carbon stock within the 170, 20 x 40 m rectangular sample plots (Shirima et al., 2015) laid systematically along with the land cover types in Image Forest Reserve. The units of measuring of 20 m x 40 m (0.08ha) are preferred as it covers as much variation as possible (Goslee, 2006). The 800m 2 were divided into 10m by 10m subplots in which measurements were taken systematically to avoid repetition. ...
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Evaluating the aboveground carbon stocks is important for scientific awareness of the vegetation condition. The study was conducted from August to September 2019 to quantify the aboveground carbon (AGC) stocks in Afromontane vegetation of Image Forest Reserve (IFR), in southern highlands of Tanzania. Ground surveys were conducted to identify the existing land cover types in IFR. A total of 170, 20 m x 40 m rectangular sample plots were systematically set on the land cover types at an interval of 250 m. The standing tree species with DBH ≥5 cm were identified and measured for their DBH (cm) at 1.3 m from the ground. Tree stumps were measured at 5 cm from the ground. Allometric equations were used to calculate the aboveground biomass and multiplied by a carbon factor of 0.47 (0.5) to get AGC. ANOVA was applied to compare the AGC within land cover types. Grounded on this study’s findings, an overall AGtC Ha-1 per land cover type ranged from 7,190.59 ± 9.49. Forest stored the largest AGtC Ha-1 (7,190.59) trailed by woodland (1,662.13), shrub land and grassland (171.54), and bare land and rock outcrops (9.49). The calculated AGC of each tree species per hectare (AGtC Ha-1) ranged from 878.14 ± 0.02. This study revealed a significant difference in AGtC Ha–1 within the forest, woodland, shrub land and grassland, bare land and rock outcrops. Out of the 187 measured tree species, 7 were known to contribute the highest AGtC Ha-1 (878.14 ± 411.61), 14 were in the medium category (322.42 ± 103.28), 53 each contributed low (94.31 ± 10.00), and 113 each contributed very low (9.28 ± 0.02). Further study is needed to assess the whole carbon stored by IFR, encourage tree planting at homesteads to reduce logging in the natural forest, and provision of conservation education.
... A few techniques of sampling designs and response designs with proven track records in forestry are also successfully being employed in ecological surveys. While a cluster pattern plants with heterogeneous spatial distributions (Greig-Smith 1983;Goslee 2006) have been devoted a little attention in ecological studies. In Hyrcanian forests, there are some species such as Wych elm, mountain Ash, Silver lime and Sour cherry, which sometimes have cluster distribution pattern in their site (Sabeti 1976). ...
... 13 Another strategy for property-based investigation that could also be borrowed from landscape ecology surveys, is the North Carolina Vegetation Survey (NCVS) nested plot (Peet et al. 1998). At least one comparative study (Goslee 2006) shows that it performs just as well as the Modified-Whittaker plot, but in comparison, it might be easier to set up and modify according to field circumstances. Jet another option for property-based investigations could be the use of pointsampling (Van de Velde 2001), combined with a standard survey procedure using transects or quadrats. ...
... 13 Another strategy for property-based investigation that could also be borrowed from landscape ecology surveys, is the North Carolina Vegetation Survey (NCVS) nested plot (Peet et al. 1998). At least one comparative study (Goslee 2006) shows that it performs just as well as the Modified-Whittaker plot, but in comparison, it might be easier to set up and modify according to field circumstances. Jet another option for property-based investigations could be the use of pointsampling (Van de Velde 2001), combined with a standard survey procedure using transects or quadrats. ...
... However, a much larger contribution to the error estimates derived from the spatial autocorrelation in the virtual population. Spatial autocorrelation is rarely considered in the analysis of individual traits in natural population studies (Goslee, 2006;Figure 8 Sensitivity test: mean and modal estimates. Mean (A-B) and modal (C-D) size at age for age groups 1-3 calculated for the virtual population (gray), the random and length-stratified age sub-samples under different sensitivity test: none error (green), effect of effect of bias and error of age data processing (blue) and spatial autocorrelation (red). ...
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Selecting an appropriate and efficient sampling strategy in biological surveys is a major concern in ecological research, particularly when the population abundance and individual traits of the sampled population are highly structured over space. Multi-stage sampling designs typically present sampling sites as primary units. However, to collect trait data, such as age or maturity, only a sub-sample of individuals collected in the sampling site is retained. Therefore, not only the sampling design, but also the sub-sampling strategy can have a major impact on important population estimates, commonly used as reference points for management and conservation. We developed a simulation framework to evaluate sub-sampling strategies from multi-stage biological surveys. Specifically, we compare quantitatively precision and bias of the population estimates obtained using two common but contrasting sub-sampling strategies: the random and the stratified designs. The sub-sampling strategy evaluation was applied to age data collection of a virtual fish population that has the same statistical and biological characteristics of the Eastern Bering Sea population of Pacific cod. The simulation scheme allowed us to incorporate contributions of several sources of error and to analyze the sensitivity of the different strategies in the population estimates. We found that, on average across all scenarios tested, the main differences between sub-sampling designs arise from the inability of the stratified design to reproduce spatial patterns of the individual traits. However, differences between the sub-sampling strategies in other population estimates may be small, particularly when large sub-sample sizes are used. On isolated scenarios (representative of specific environmental or demographic conditions), the random sub-sampling provided better precision in all population estimates analyzed. The sensitivity analysis revealed the important contribution of spatial autocorrelation in the error of population trait estimates, regardless of the sub-sampling design. This framework will be a useful tool for monitoring and assessment of natural populations with spatially structured traits in multi-stage sampling designs.
... For the zero SA case, a 100-by-100 ( = 10,000) landscape (Goslee [48] furnishes R code for generating square lattices) with 10,000 numbers conforming to (0,1) randomly assigned on it was generated. Figure 7a illustrates this landscape, with colors ranging from red to green portraying values of different levels. ...
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This paper focuses on the spatial autocorrelation parameter ρ of the simultaneous autoregressive model, and furnishes its sampling distribution for nonzero values, for two regular square (rook and queen) tessellations as well as a hexagonal case with rook connectivity, using Monte Carlo simulation experiments with a large sample size. The regular square lattice directly relates to increasingly used, remotely sensed images, whereas the regular hexagonal configuration is frequently used in sampling and aggregation situations. Results suggest an asymptotic normal distribution for estimated ρ. More specifically, this paper posits functions between ρ and its variance for three adjacency structures, which makes hypothesis testing implementable and furnishes an easily-computed version of the asymptotic variance for ρ at zero for each configuration. In addition, it also presents three examples, where the first employed a simulated dataset for a zero spatial autocorrelation case, and the other two used two empirical datasets—of these, one is a census block dataset for Wuhan (with a Moran coefficient of 0.53, allowing a null hypothesis of, e.g., ρ=0.7) to illustrate a moderate spatial autocorrelation case, and the other is a remotely sensed image of the Yellow Mountain region, China (with a Moran coefficient of 0.91, allowing a null hypothesis of, e.g., ρ=0.95) to illustrate a high spatial autocorrelation case.
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Monitoring the density of natural populations is crucial for ecosystem management decision making and natural resource management. The most widely used method to measure the population density of animal and plant species in natural habitats is to count organisms in sample plots. Yet evaluation of survey performance by different sample plot shapes, e.g. quadrats compared with transects, has been largely neglected since the 1990s and has not been undertaken using simulation. Simulating populations and surveys, we evaluated population density measurement precision for 900 cases, testing 30 sample plot survey designs in each of 30 spatially clustered populations. We varied three design options: elongation of plot shape while keeping sample area constant, systematic or random plot allocation, and sample size. Survey design performance varied markedly: elongating the plot shape always improved survey precision; allocating plots systematically sometimes did. (i) Averaged across all tested populations, elongated (1:100) transect plot shapes were 2-to-3 times more precise than square (10:10) quadrats. (ii) The precision of systematic surveys accelerated with sample plot number, increasing faster than the (known) linear increase under simple random sampling. This non-linear, concave upward, dependence of systematic precision on sample size has not previously been reported. (iii) The most precise design we evaluated used long narrow transects allocated systematically. Averaging among all 30 tested populations, a researcher would need 600 random square (10:10) quadrats to equal the precision achieved by 100 systematic (1:100) transects. Finding this average efficiency difference of 600% for a survey sample size of 100 plots, these simulation results imply that field trips requiring five sampling days using random quadrats could achieve equal precision in one or two days using systematic elongated transects. For all clustered populations we tested, long narrow transects resulted in a more efficient design for sample plot survey.
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We present a flexible protocol for recording vegetation composition and structure that is appropriate for diverse applications, is scale transgressive, yields data compatible with those from commonly used methods, and is applicable across a broad range of terrestrial vegetation. the protocol is intended to be flexible in the intensity of use and commitment of time, and sufficiently open in architecture as to be adapatible to unanticipated applications. The standard observation unit is a 10 × 10 m (0.01 ha) quadrat or 'module'. Where the extent of homogeneous vegetation is sufficient, multiple modules are combined to form a larger, more representative sample-unit. All vascular species are recorded by cover class and in intensively sampled modules as present or absent in sets of nested quadrats. For each module, tres stems are tallied by diameter class; species with exceptionally high or low stem density can be sub- or supersampled to allow efficient collection of data and assessment of population structure. The most common plot configuration consits of 10 modules arranged in a 2 × 5 array with four modules sampled intensively; this size is often necessary to capture the complexity of a forest community. For rapid reconnaissance or inventory purposes, fewer modules are typically employed, and less information is collected.
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Quadrats are widely used for measuring characteristics of vascular plant communities. It is well recognized that quadrat size affects measurements of frequency and cover. The ability of quadrats of varying sizes to adequately measure diversity has not been established. An exhaustive search of sixteen 40 by 40 m old field plots documented presence or absence of 88 vascular plant species (mean = 58.8 per plot). Against these benchmarks, measurements of species richness were obtained from 50 samples in each plot and compared among three different sized quadrats (0.2 by 0.5 m, 0.5 by 0.5 m and 0.5 by 1.0 m). These quadrats differed in the number of species measured, with an average of 33.6, 38.7 and 41.4 species respectively (P<0.001; Least Significant Difference test critical difference = 0.7 species). Quadrats are relatively ineffective for documenting the actual number of vascular plant species present on old field plots (at least 30% of species undetected). However, under the intensity of sampling used in this study (n = 50) a difference of less than one species per plot was detected at P<0.05. Thus, quadrat sampling regardless of quadrat size can provide a precise index of vascular plant species richness.
Chapter
This book is the second of two volumes in a series on terrestrial and marine comparisons, focusing on the temporal complement of the earlier spatial analysis of patchiness and pattern (Levin et al. 1993). The issue of the relationships among pattern, scale, and patchiness has been framed forcefully in John Steele’s writings of two decades (e.g., Steele 1978). There is no pattern without an observational frame. In the words of Nietzsche, “There are no facts… only interpretations.”
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Maintaining native plant diversity, detecting exotic species, and monitoring rare species are becoming important objectives in rangeland conservation. Four rangeland vegetation sampling techniques were compared to see how well they captured local plant diversity. The methods tested included the commonly used Parker transects, Daubenmire transects as modified by the USDA Forest Service, a new transect and "large quadrat" design proposed by the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and the Modified-Whittaker multi-scale vegetation plot. The 4 methods were superimposed in shortgrass steppe, mixed grass prairie, northern mixed prairie, and tallgrass prairie in the Central Grasslands of the United States with 4 replicates in each prairie type. Analysis of variance tests showed significant method effects and prairie type effects, but no significant method × type interactions for total species richness, the number of native species, the number of species with less than 1% cover, and the time required for sampling. The methods behaved similarly in each prairie type under a wide variety of grazing regimes. The Parker, large quadrat, and Daubenmire transects significantly underestimated the total species richness and the number of native species in each prairie type, and the number of species with less than 1% cover in all but the tallgrass prairie type. The transect techniques also consistently missed half the exotic species, including noxious weeds, in each prairie type. The Modified-Whittaker method, which included an exhaustive search for plant species in a 20 × 50 m plot, served as the baseline for species richness comparisons. For all prairie types, the Modified-Whittaker plot captured an average of 42.9 (± 2.4; 1 S.E.) plant species per site compared to 15.9 (± 1.3), 18.9 (± 1.2), and 22.8 (± 1.6) plant species per site using the Parker, large quadrat, and Daubenmire transect methods, respectively. The 4 methods captured most of the dominant species at each site and thus produced similar results for total foliar cover and soil cover. The detection and measurement of exotic plant species were greatly enhanced by using ten 1 m2 subplots in a multi-scale sampling design and searching a larger area $(1,000\ {\rm m}^{2})$ at each site. Even with 4 replicate sites, the transect methods usually captured, and thus would monitor, 36 to 66% of the plant species at each site. To evaluate the status and trends of common, rare, and exotic plant species at local, regional, and national scales, innovative, multi-scale methods must replace the commonly used transect methods of the past.
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It is argued that the problem of pattern and scale is the central problem in ecology, unifying population biology and ecosystems science, and marrying basic and applied ecology. Applied challenges, such as the prediction of the ecological causes and consequences of global climate change, require the interfacing of phenomena that occur on very different scales of space, time, and ecological organization. Furthermore, there is no single natural scale at which ecological phenomena should be studied; systems generally show characteristic variability on a range of spatial, temporal, and organizational scales. The observer imposes a perceptual bias, a filter through which the system is viewed. This has fundamental evolutionary significance, since every organism is an "observer" of the environment, and life history adaptations such as dispersal and dormancy alter the perceptual scales of the species, and the observed variability. It likewise has fundamental significance for our own study of ecological systems, since the patterns that are unique to any range of scales will have unique causes and biological consequences. The key to prediction and understanding lies in the elucidation of mechanisms underlying observed patterns. Typically, these mechanisms operate at different scales than those on which the patterns are observed; in some cases, the patterns must be understood as emerging form the collective behaviors of large ensembles of smaller scale units. In other cases, the pattern is imposed by larger scale constraints. Examination of such phenomena requires the study of how pattern and variability change with the scale of description, and the development of laws for simplification, aggregation, and scaling. Examples are given from the marine and terrestrial literatures.