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A rapid method for quantifying small-scale vegetation patch structure to complement conventional quadrat surveys

Lookup NU author(s): Liam Butler, Dr Roy SandersonORCiD



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Wiley, 2021.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


AimsVegetation sampling typically involves the use of quadrats to estimate species cover abundance. Such surveys do not generally record small-scale vegetation patch structure at sub-quadrat scales. Here we test a simple method to quantify patch structure that complements conventional techniques. We compare the two methods, and analyse metrics derived from small-scale patch surveys with environment/management data.LocationNorthumberland, United Kingdom.MethodsWe recorded cover abundance of all species in an upland moor with 1-m2 quadrats. These were divided into 100 ‘sub-quadrats’, 10 cm × 10 cm, and the dominant and subdominant species identified. Patch metrics (number, area and shape) for individual species recorded as dominant or subdominant in the subquadrat survey were analysed using multi-variate generalised linear models with environmental and management data. Sub-quadrat data were also aggregated for each quadrat, to create species composition data. The two sets of compositional data, from whole-quadrat and sub-quadrat aggregations, were compared via Procrustes rotation of ordination scores.ResultsPatch number, area and shape for dominant and subdominant species were all significantly affected by soil pH, soil water content, slope and elevation. Effects of proximity to sheep tracks and drainage ditches were less consistent amongst species. Ordinations of vegetation data from conventional and sub-quadrats were similar, with significant Procrustes R2 of 67% and 70% for dominant and subdominant species respectively.ConclusionsSub-quadrat surveys can easily be used to complement existing whole-quadrat surveys at little cost in time or resources. Their patch metrics can provide additional insights into the environmental and management drivers that may affect the growth of individual plants or clumps, potentially in relation to plant traits, and thus alter the overall community composition. The methods we describe can readily be adapted to other sizes of quadrats and sub-quadrats in a wide range of vegetation communities.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Butler L, Sanderson RA

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Applied Vegetation Science

Year: 2021

Volume: 24

Issue: 3

Print publication date: 04/09/2021

Online publication date: 04/09/2021

Acceptance date: 26/08/2021

Date deposited: 12/07/2022

ISSN (electronic): 1654-109X

Publisher: Wiley


DOI: 10.1111/avsc.12610


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