Vegetation monitoring, and related activities like assessment and inventory, are a cornerstone of natural resource adaptive management. However, many people either do not implement monitoring, conduct very basic or uninformative data collection, or do not use the monitoring data they collect. While there are many potential reasons for this, one significant factor is a lack of understanding of how to select appropriate indicators and methods to build and implement a monitoring program. The Vegetation Measurement and Monitoring course was designed to give an overview of vegetation measurement techniques for grasslands, shrublands, woodlands, and forests. Students will gain a solid understanding of how to evaluate and monitor vegetation attributes relative to wildlife habitat, livestock forage, fire fuel characteristics, watershed function, and many other wildland values.
After completing the course learning modules, students will be able to:
- Design appropriate sampling protocols to meet monitoring objectives in various types of vegetation.
- Measure vegetation cover, density, frequency, biomass, structure, and species composition and diversity on rangelands.
- Estimate utilization of herbage.
- Explain advantages and disadvantages of different sampling and measurement methods for all plant attributes.
- Create monitoring programs that incorporate photographic methods
- Use standard approaches to land classification and evaluation to interpret results in the context of resource management decisions.
- Be able to identify and interpret rangeland health indicators
- Clearly communicate results and their implications in an accepted standard written format.
This course content is used for the University of Idaho’s Principles of Vegetation Measurement and Assessment (REM 410) and New Mexico State University Vegetation Measurements (RGSC 452) classes. Recommended preparation for this course includes familiarity with basic statistics (such as would be covered in an introduction statistics course) and understanding of how to use computer spreadsheets such as Excel.
This course is provided by the Range Science Education Council, and was made possible through a USDA NIFA Higher Education Challenge Grant entitled “Repositioning Rangeland Education for a Changing World.” (Award # 2010-38411-21370).
1. Introduction to Vegetation Inventory, Assessment, and Monitoring
The purpose of this section is to explore steps in designing and conducting vegetation monitoring projects. Specific concepts and tools will complete the story in subsequent sections of this course.
2. Sampling Principles
This unit focuses on the principles of sampling: why we sample, the relationship between population parameters and sample statistics, accuracy and precision, types of error and their causes, and using confidence intervals to make inferences about populations. Very simply, we sample so that we can gather accurate and precise information about populations, and to make inferences about populations with confidence.
3. Sampling Design
This module focuses on the elements of sampling design. Sampling design encompasses all of the practical components of a sampling endeavor: where to sample, what to sample, and how to sample!
4. Monitoring Implementation, Data Quality, and Best Practices
Data management is fundamental to any type of data gathering activity. It is a process that includes many steps, each of which provide opportunities to introduce non-sampling errors related to human error. This module focuses on the best management practices that can be used to reduce or eliminate potential errors associated with data management.
5. Indicators, Methods, Descriptors, and Covariates
This section explores the distinctions between indicators and methods, introduces the concepts of site descriptors and covariates that are used to help classify and interpret monitoring data.
This module focuses on plant density: what it is, how it is measured, and how density data are used by land managers to inform resource management decisions. Very simply, density is defined as the number of individuals per unit area, and reflects the closeness of individuals.
This module focuses on plant frequency: what it is, how it is measured, and how frequency data are used by land managers to inform resource management decisions. Very simply, frequency measurements record the presence of species in quadrats or plots placed repeatedly across a stand of vegetation. Frequency reflects the probability of finding a species at any location in the vegetated area.
This module focuses on cover: what it is, how it is measured, and how cover data are used by land managers to inform resource management decisions.
9. Vegetation Height and Structure
This module focuses on vegetation structure: what structure represents, how it is measured, and how information about vegetation structure is used to inform resource management decisions. Very simply, vegetation structure refers to the three-dimensional arrangement of plants and plant materials on a site or across a landscape. Vegetation structure is primarily influenced by plant cover on horizontal and vertical planes.
10. Biomass and Production
This module focuses on plant biomass: what it is, how it is measured, and how biomass data are used by land managers to inform resource management decisions.
This module focuses on plant utilization: what it is, how it is measured, and how utilization data are used by land managers to inform resource management decisions.
12. Composition, Diversity, Similarity
This module focuses on plant community diversity: how it is described, how it is measured, and how diversity is interpreted by land managers to inform management decisions.
13. Remote Sensing for Vegetation Monitoring and Assessment
Remote sensing techniques offer many opportunities to inform, supplement, and sometimes replace traditional field-based aproaches to vegetation assessment and monitoring. This module explores ways in which remote sensing can be used in monitoring and provides example applications.
14. Assessment and Monitoring Programs
This module explores some established rangeland assessment and monitoring programs, describes their protocols, and discusses how the collected data are used in management decision making.