Data Collection Distractions

This week, I really need to get a bunch of data collection done. Each year, I collect plant composition data in June from a variety of sites at our Platte River Prairies. The data help us track plant species diversity and other trends over time and evaluate how our management (and other factors) are affecting those plant communities. I have 2 restored prairies I’ve been tracking annually for nearly 20 years and two others I’ve looked at every other year across that same time period – and many others I check in on when I have time.

I have to cover at least four sites this year, and it would be nice to get to six. It usually takes between four and five hours per site, so if I start early in the morning, I can do one prairie before it gets too hot and then slip back inside to work on other projects. Following that schedule, I should be able to get at least four sites done this week (I’m busy on Friday morning, so can’t collect data then).

So far, though, I’ve worked two long mornings and only have one site and a small part of a second site done. It’s not my fault. The light has been good for photography and the prairies are full of fascinating creatures just begging me to photograph them. Plus, my data collection involves plopping a 1×1 meter frame on the ground a bunch of times and looking very closely at all the plants inside the frame. Of COURSE I’m going to find lots of tiny creatures when I’m doing that!

I’d go a lot faster, I suppose, if I didn’t carry my camera gear with me because then I wouldn’t be able to stop and take pictures.

…I think we can all agree that would be silly, right?

WordPress (the platform I use for this blog) isn’t allowing me to create captions tonight. It’s apparently a bug they’re working on (not the good kind of bug.) As a work-around, here is the caption info for the three images above. First – a ladybug is backlit on a grass leaf. Second – a picture winged fly sits on Illinois bundleflower. Third – a tiny leaf hopper on a leaf – there were scads of these around today.

More caption info.. The yellow flowers above are Calylophus serrulatus, otherwise known as serrate leaf primrose or sundrops. Above is a sedge seedhead (Carex gravida) with spider webbing and some insect parts wrapped around it. After I took that photo, I touched the webbing to see if I could figure out what was going on and the spider in the photo below popped out. It wouldn’t show me its face, so this is the best photo I could get of it.

The photo above shows a milkweed leaf beetle larva feeding on whorled milkweed (thanks to Tom Weissling for the ID). The photo below is self heal (Prunella vulgaris) growing in a restored wetland slough in the prairie I was working in.

I’ll be back out in the field tomorrow morning, which is why I’m posting this tonight. With any luck, I’ll finish my second site. Unfortunately, (hee hee) the forecast looks promising for photography, so I guess we’ll see…

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

10 thoughts on “Data Collection Distractions

  1. Your posts make me happy and a little less guilty about my photo diversions. I recently spent five hours staking out a known least bittern hangout. The perp flew and I never caught him! Thanks for the smiles, and the nice photos too.

  2. Please do take your camera gear along. After all you might stumble upon a rare plant that needs to be documented. 😁

  3. I have wondered if the following approach would work:

    * Plot one or more transects of the area in question. These should have roughly the same proportion of subareas as the large area. E.g. if 15% of the area is lowland that is wet for part of the year then 15% of the route should be in that country. Plan a stop every 100m or at every ‘edge; (stream, slough, ridge, hilltop, tree margin)

    * At each location snap a series of pictures, probably using a prime lens (42 mm on full frame, 28 on crop sensor would probably allow 8 pics for a full circle. Then 2 at your feet on either side, and two into the treetops if present. Carry 4 stakes marked N,E,S,W. Each picture is shot with a stake at one edge of the frame. This gives you orientation, and can also be used to eliminate or reduce overlap and double counting. Standard plastic electric fence post are available in a bunch of colours, are easy to insert, and are light weight. Your GPS has an internal compass that is accurate enough to set these up.

    * Now do your plant id at your leisure.

    There are programs like SnapScan that can identify some kinds of plants. Can this tech be extended to pull relative plant ID out of photographs?

    Variations: Used with a standard 3degree prism, you could calculate basal area of woody growth per unit area.

    Also: Even if the plant ID isn’t good enough now, starting to collect the data sets now would allow retro analysis when the software does get good enough.

    Regards

    Sherwood

    On Tue, 8 Jun 2021 at 20:55, The Prairie Ecologist wrote:

    > Chris Helzer posted: ” This week, I really need to get a bunch of data > collection done. Each year, I collect plant composition data in June from a > variety of sites at our Platte River Prairies. The data help us track plant > species diversity and other trends over time and eva” >

    • I like the way you’re thinking. I think there would be a couple challenges. Lighting would be one, of course. Ideally, you’d shoot on a day with bright overcast lighting to eliminate shadows but provide enough light and contrast to discriminate between plants. The bigger challenge, though, is that it would be hard to see smaller plants hiding beneath bigger plants – especially when the prairie is thatchy and/or has a lot of standing dead material from previous years. I think your method would work great to identify the big dominant species – which could be sufficient for some research questions – but would be more difficult if it is important to find all the plants.

  4. Such joy in such challenges! Chase

    On Tue, Jun 8, 2021 at 9:56 PM The Prairie Ecologist wrote:

    > Chris Helzer posted: ” This week, I really need to get a bunch of data > collection done. Each year, I collect plant composition data in June from a > variety of sites at our Platte River Prairies. The data help us track plant > species diversity and other trends over time and eva” >

  5. I think not taking your camera out on every trip would deprive many of an educational opportunity and would be a dereliction of duty . . . And think of the fun you would miss . . .

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