A performance comparison of sampling methods in the assessment of species composition patterns and environment–vegetation relationships in species-rich grasslands

Grzegorz Swacha, Zoltán Botta-Dukát, Zygmunt Kącki, Daniel Pruchniewicz, Ludwik Żołnierz


The influence that different sampling methods have on the results and the interpretation of vegetation analysis has been much debated, but little is yet known about how the spatial arrangement of samples affect patterns of species composition and environment–vegetation relationships within the same vegetation type. We compared three data sets of the same sample size obtained by three standard sampling methods: preferential, random, and systematic. These different sampling methods were applied to a study area comprising of 36 ha of intermittently wet Molinia meadows. We compared the performance of the three methods under two management categories: managed (extensively mown) and unmanaged (abandoned for 10 years). A total of 285 vegetation-plots were sampled, with 95 plots recorded per sampling method. In preferential sampling, we sampled only patches of vegetation with an abundance of indicator species of the habitat type, while random and systematic plots were positioned independently from the researcher by using GIS. The effect of each sampling method on the patterns of species composition and species–environment relationships was explored by redundancy analysis and the significance of effects was tested by the randomization test. Preferential sampling revealed different patterns of species composition than random and systematic sampling methods. Random and systematic sampling methods have resulted in broader vegetation variability than with preferential sampling method. Preferential sampling revealed different relationship between soil parameters and species composition in contrast to random and systematic sampling methods. Although we have not found significant differences in vegetation–environment relationships between random and systematic sampling methods, random sampling revealed a more robust correlation of species data to soil factors than preferential and systematic sampling methods. Intentional restriction of vegetation variation sampled preferentially may be detrimental to statistical inference in studies of species composition patterns and vegetation–environment relationships.


preferential; random; systematic; soil properties; Molinion meadows

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5586/asbp.3561

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