, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 194–207 | Cite as

Field sampling in estuaries: The relationship of scale to variability

  • Robert J. Livingston


The spatial/temporal scaling problem (i.e., fitting a given research question to the dimensions of variability of the study area) is particularly pronounced in highly variable systems such as estuaries. Long-term, multidisciplinary studies in the Apalachicola Bay system were used to evaluate variation of different physical, chemical, and biological factors. Specific limitations of weekly, monthly, and quarterly sampling intervals were directly related to the efficiency of the sampling gear, the range of variation in the study parameters, and specific biological features (motility, recruitment, natural history) of infaunal macroinvertebrates and epibenthic organisms. There are families of spatial and temporal scaling phenomena that should be considered when establishing a given field sampling program. The dimensions of variation change along spatial/temporal gradients of salinity, habitat complexity, and productivity and among different levels of biological organization. The limits of variation define the needed sampling effort for a given level of estimation. Without an adequate evaluation of such variation, representative samples cannot be taken; the resulting inadequate sampling effort often precludes reliable comparisons and robust generalization. There is a continuum of scaling dimensions (and sampling problems) that ranges from small-scale experimental approaches to system-wide analyses. Misapplication of such scaling estimates has led to overgeneralization of experimental results. Currently, there is widespread misapplication of combinations of unrelated, limited sampling efforts to broad-scale resource problems. The loss of valuable estuarine resources is favored by the lack of adequate scientific databases that are consistent with the dimensions of the individual study areas. Unless experimental studies and field sampling programs are scaled to the dimensions of the research problem and the study area in question there will be a continued proliferation of trivial studies at one end of the continuum and the progressive deterioration of estuarine resources at the other.


Species Richness Island Biogeography Otter Trawl Quarterly Sampling Monthly Summary 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Estuarine Research Federation 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert J. Livingston
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Aquatic Research and Resource ManagementFlorida State UniversityTallahassee

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