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Trade-offs between sampling effort and data quality in habitat monitoring

Del Vecchio, Silvia, Fantinato, Edy, Silan, Giulia, Buffa, Gabriella
Biodiversity and conservation 2019 v.28 no.1 pp. 55-73
conservation status, cost effectiveness, data quality, guidelines, habitat conservation, habitats, models, monitoring, multivariate analysis, plant communities, species richness, vegetation
The transect method has been widely used to monitor habitat conservation status and has been recently recommended as the best tool to monitor steep ecological gradients, such as those in coastal systems. Despite that, the effectiveness of the transect approach can be limited when considering the sampling effort in terms of time needed for sampling. Our work aimed at evaluating the efficacy of the transect approach in a Mediterranean coastal system. Specifically we aimed at evaluating the sampling effort versus the completeness of datasets obtained by performing belt transects in different ways specifically designed to progressively reduce the sampling effort: (i) sampling plots adjacently (“adjacent-plot transect”); (ii) sampling plots alternately (“alternate-plot transect”); (iii) sampling one plot at each plant community along the vegetation zonation (“zonation-plot transect”). We evaluated method efficiency in terms of number and type of habitats identified, spatial extent, species richness and composition, through multivariate analyses, null models and rarefaction curves. The sampling effort was measured in terms of time needed for sampling. The zonation-plot transect had the lowest sampling effort, but provided only an approximation of the state of the dunal communities. The alternate-plot transect showed the best trade-off between the sampling effort and the completeness of information obtained, and may be considered as a efficient option in very wide coastal systems. Our research provides guidelines that can be used in other coastal systems to choose the most cost-effective monitoring method thereby maximising the efficient use of monitoring resources.