To draw reliable conclusions from forest restoration experiments, it is important that long-term measurements be repeatable or year-to-year variability may interfere with the correct interpretation of treatment effects. We used permanent plots in a long-term restoration study in southwestern Colorado to measure herbaceous and shrub vegetation at three dates within a single year (June, July, and August), and between years (2003 and 2005), on untreated control plots in a warm, dry mixed conifer forest. Growing season precipitation patterns were similar between 2003 and 2005, so differences in vegetation should be related primarily to differences in the sampling month. Significant indicator species for each sampling month were present within a single year (2005), primarily reflecting early-season annuals. We found no significant differences for total species abundance (2005). Species richness, abundance, and indicator species were significantly different between years for different sampling months indicating that sampling should be conducted within a similar time frame to avoid detecting differences that are not due to treatment effects or variations in year-to-year climate. These findings have implications for long-term research studies where the objectives are to detect changes over time in response to treatments, climate variation, and natural processes. Long-term sampling should occur within a similar phenological time frame each year over a short amount of time and should be based on the following criteria: (1) the sampling period is congruent with research objectives such as detecting rare species or peak understory abundance and (2) the sampling period is feasible in regard to personnel and financial constraints.
- Forest ecology
- Plant community dynamics
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation