Biological Invasions

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 523–539

Searching for a Needle in a Haystack: Evaluating Survey Methods for Non-indigenous Plant Species

  • Lisa J. Rew
  • Bruce D. Maxwell
  • Frank L. Dougher
  • Richard Aspinall

DOI: 10.1007/s10530-005-6420-2

Cite this article as:
Rew, L.J., Maxwell, B.D., Dougher, F.L. et al. Biol Invasions (2006) 8: 523. doi:10.1007/s10530-005-6420-2


The control and management of non-indigenous plant species (NIS) can be conceptually divided into three phases: inventory/survey, monitoring and management. Here we focus on phase one, determining which species are present and where they are located within the environment. Sampling for NIS is inherently time-consuming and thus costly. Many management areas are large and therefore can only be surveyed (partial observation of the total area by sampling) and not inventoried (total observation of area). Survey data should reflect the spatial distribution of the target species populations over the landscape. Such data can then be used in combination with environmental data, to create probability maps of target species occurrence for the entire area of interest. We used a GIS model to evaluate seven different survey methods for consistency and reliability of intersecting NIS species’ patches and producing samples which reflect the spatial distribution of the population, and which can be performed in a cost and time-efficient manner. The GIS model was developed to create NIS populations which were then sampled using the different survey methods, and the results recorded. To improve the applicability of the model, four patch sizes and levels of occurrence were used, along with random and weighted distribution patterns in relation to patch proximity to roads and trails. Grid and random points, and targeted (stratified continuous) transects (starting on a road or trail (rights of way (RoW)) and finishing 2 km from any RoW) methods provided the most consistent samples of the population. Logistically, point methods required an unrealistic distance and time commitment in comparison with transect methods. The importance of collecting information on the size of NIS patches was demonstrated as more small patches were intersected than larger ones when the area infested was held constant. Thus, if frequency of patches is used to explain the results of a survey then comparisons between species and methods are difficult to interpret thus leading to erroneous conclusions. However, use of percentage of area infested estimates provides for easier comparison between species and sample methods. The targeted transect method provided the most reliable, efficient and consistent sample with the expected spatial distribution.


invasive species inventory non-native species sampling method simulation model stratified sampling survey weed management weeds 



non-indigenous plant species


perpendicular to rights of way transect survey method


rights of way e.g. roads and trails


Seek and destroy survey method


Yellowstone National Park

Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lisa J. Rew
    • 1
  • Bruce D. Maxwell
    • 1
  • Frank L. Dougher
    • 1
  • Richard Aspinall
    • 2
  1. 1.Land Resources and Environmental Sciences DepartmentMontana State UniversityBozemanUSA
  2. 2.Geographic Information and Analysis CenterMontana State UniversityBozemanUSA

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