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Studying Ecosystems


Ecologists usually study ecosystems to find out whether the abundance and distribution of a species is related to that of other species, or to environmental factors such as light intensity of soil pH. It would be ideal to count every individual of every species but in most habitats this is impossible. Instead they take samples from the habitat. This means selecting small portions of the habtat and studying them carefully.

To compare the abundance and distribution of plant species in two different fields ecologists sample small parts of the habitat using a quadrat. A quadrat is a square frame that defines the sample area, it is often 1m square and can have strings across every 10cm, seperating it into 100 smaller quares. You can record presence of absence of each species (distribution) or you can estimate or count the number of individuals (abundance) of each species. Estimating percentage cover is very difficult, you can do it using a quadrat but its not very accurate instead they use point quadrats. Before sampling you need to decide where to place the quadrats, how many samples to take and how big the quadrat should be.
Population size of a species = mean no. of individuals of each species in each quadrat fraction of the total habitat area covered by a quadrat

If you want to look systematically for changes in vegetation across a habitat you can use a transect. A transect is a line taken across a habitat. It is easiest to stretch out a tape measure and then take samples at regular intervals along the tape. Line transect - at regular interals, make a note of which species is touching the tape. Belt transect - at regular intervals, place a quadrat next to the line studying each. Or place a quadrat next to the line, moving it along the line after looking at eah quadrat.

Explain why you have to take samples from a habitat? Because it is often impossible to count or measure all the individulas in a population. Suggest the advantage of taking those samples at random? No bias influences the individuals chosen, and we avoid skewing the eventual results. Suggest the advantage of taking those samples at regular intervals in the habitat? Every part of the habitat is sampled to the same extent. Suggest the advantages and disadvantages of using a continous belt transect compared to a line transect? A belt transect gives more detailed info on abundance of each species, rather than just presence or absence provided by a line transect. The amount of work involved in a belt transect is greater than a line transect.