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Keywords:

  • Cover class;
  • Line intercept;
  • Observer bias;
  • Observer error;
  • Pseudoturnover;
  • Quality control;
  • Sampling error;
  • Wisconsin

Abstract. We evaluated variability in cover estimation data obtained by (1) two sampling teams who double sampled plots and (2) one team that used two methods (line intercepts and visual estimation of cover classes) to characterize vegetation of herbaceous wetlands. Species richness and cover estimates were similar among teams and among methods, but one sampling team scored cover higher than the other. The line intercept technique yielded higher cover estimates but lower species richness estimates than the cover class method. Cluster analyses of plots revealed that 36% and 11% of plots sampled consecutively by two teams or using two methods, respectively, were similar enough in species composition and abundance to be paired together in the resulting clustering tree. Simplifying cover estimate data to presence/absence increased the similarity among both teams and methods at the plot scale. Teams were very similar in their overall characterization of sites when cover estimation data were used, as assessed by cluster analysis, but methods agreed best on their overall characterization of sites when only presence/absence data were considered. Differences in abundance estimates as well as pseudoturnover contribute to variability. For double sampled plots, pseudoturnover was 19.1%, but 57.7% of pseudo-turnover cases involved taxa with ≤ 0.5% cover while only 3.4% involved taxa with > 8% cover. We suggest that vegetation scientists incorporate quality control, calibrate observers and publish their results.