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Evaluation of a “trace” plant density score in LTRM vegetation monitoring

October 25, 2021

The Long Term Resource Monitoring (LTRM) element of the Upper Mississippi River Restoration program employs a harvest method for sampling submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) whereby a rake is dragged ~1.5 m over the substrate and plant materials are retrieved.  “Plant density” (PD) scores indicate SAV abundance and are based on the amount of plant material collected on the teeth of the rake.  Standard PD scores are ordered, whole numbers from 0 (no SAV on the rake) to 5 (80-100% of rake teeth full) and are assigned at each subsite for all species combined and for each individual species. 

In LTRM monitoring between 1998 and 2018, ~73% of non-zero, all-species-combined PD scores were 1s, and ~89% of individual SAV species were 1s.  The preponderance of PD = 1 scores along with the wide range of fresh mass represented by PD = 1 (quantified in Drake and Lund 2020) limits inference about SAV abundance from LTRM monitoring data. 

Field personnel noted that small plant fragments comprised a substantial fraction of PD = 1 observations and proposed a modification of the existing LTRM methods where PD = 1 was subdivided to include “trace” scores to represent such small fragments.  Trace was defined as PD = 0.08, indicating a maximum of 1 of 13 gaps in the sampling rake filled to the level of an original PD = 1.  Amounts of plant material greater than PD = 0.08 and up to the original score of 1 were defined PD = +1.  This study used field data collected in 2018 (scoring and fresh weights of scored plant materials) from 136 vegetated sites in Pools 4, 8 and 13 to evaluate the proposed subdivision and to examine among-pool differences in PD data.  In the study data, 33% of all-species-combined observations and 69% of species (grouped by morphology) that would previously have received a score of 1 were classified as PD = 0.08.  PD scores of 0.08, +1, and 2-3 represented statistically distinct amounts of fresh mass in rake samples.  There were systematic differences in the mass of SAV reflected by PD score based on plant morphology and species composition.  The mean fresh mass of plant materials assigned a given PD score varied among the three pools, suggesting bias attributable to personnel.  To reduce this bias in future data collection efforts, the field crews incorporated a calibration of plant density scores in annual field training.  The results presented here describe how including a trace PD score in LTRM data collection improves the description of SAV abundance and consequently estimates of biomass from those PD scores.  LTRM vegetation crews have recorded trace scores in annual sampling since 2019 as extra information (i.e. which does not change the LTRM data stream as 0.08 and +1 scores can still be combined for PD=1).  Trace data are not currently available to outside users through the LTRM data browser but are available from vegetation component personnel upon request. 

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Evaluation of a “trace” plant density score in LTRM vegetation monitoring
Authors Deanne C. Drake, Eric Lund, Kyle Bales
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Series Title Long Term Resource Monitoring Technical Report
Series Number LTRM-2018BI03a
Index ID 70225586
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center