Biodiversity & Conservation

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 255-278

First online:

A nested-intensity design for surveying plant diversity

  • David T. BarnettAffiliated withNatural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University Email author 
  • , Thomas J. StohlgrenAffiliated withMidcontinent Ecological Science Center, United States Geological Survey, Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University

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Managers of natural landscapes need cost-efficient, accurate, and precise systems to inventory plant diversity. We investigated a nested-intensity sampling design to assess local and landscape-scale heterogeneity of plant species richness in aspen stands in southern Colorado, USA. The nested-intensity design used three vegetation sampling techniques: the Modified-Whittaker, a 1000-m2 multiple-scale plot (n = 8); a 100-m2 multiple-scale Intensive plot (n = 15); and a 100-m2 single-scale Extensive plot (n = 28). The large Modified-Whittaker plot (1000 m2) recorded greater species richness per plot than the other two sampling techniques (P < 0.001), estimated cover of a greater number of species in 1-m2 subplots (P < 0.018), and captured 32 species missed by the smaller, more numerous 100-m2 plots of the other designs. The Intensive plots extended the environmental gradient sampled, capturing 17 species missed by the other techniques, and improved species–area calculations. The greater number of Extensive plots further expanded the gradient sampled, and captured 18 additional species. The multi-scale Modified-Whittaker and Intensive designs allowed quantification of the slopes of species–area curves in the single-scale Extensive plots. Multiple linear regressions were able to predict the slope of species–area curves (adj R 2 = 0.64, P < 0.001) at each Extensive plot, allowing comparison of species richness at each sample location. Comparison of species–accumulation curves generated with each technique suggested that small, single-scale plot techniques might be very misleading because they underestimate species richness by missing locally rare species at every site. A combination of large and small multi-scale and single-scale plots greatly improves our understanding of native and exotic plant diversity patterns.

Inventory Nested-intensity designs Plant species richness Sample plot size