Reconciling desktop sampling versus field sampling

Posted by | September 28, 2017 | Uncategorized | No Comments

This blog is a little anecdote about even with the best of intentions and a lot of desktop legwork ecological field sampling often doesn’t quite go to plan.

Recently the project undertook its first of two sampling field trips to collect soil (soil cores for carbon) and vegetation data (tree DBH and height). The project will likely sample two areas, western and coastal.  As nobody wants to be out west in summer, first up was the western region, stretching between Armidale up to Inverell across to Moree and down to Narrabri.

In the weeks leading up to the field trip naturally a lot of time was spent on the desktop in ArcMap using a number of soil and vegetation information layers and aerial images to select the ideal sites that could be based on experience realistically sampled out in the field. Taking into account soil types, vegetation communities, proximity to main trails (as the sites were all in national parks and state forests). In the end it was narrowed down to 27 carefully selected ideal sites across 9 parks for the project.

Next up, seeking permission… relatively straightforward you only need to fill in 10 reams of paperwork, talk to two government agencies (multiple times) then three different parts of the same organisations, organise keys for all the locked gates, and lastly talk to all the landholders for permission to cross their land to get into the parks and make sure there is no impediments to our access. So after another week on the phone, 50 pages of detailed maps created we are finally ready to collect the data. Surely everything will go smoothly after all that groundwork, even the weather looks good! My field assistant, Justin, was ready to go, 5 days of smooth sampling ahead.

First site, two days to go and then I had to change our access to a completely different part of the park, I changed the GPS coordinates of the sites within the park to make for the new logical sampling order (but opps I forgot to change the site numbers on the maps – sorry Justin!). Third site of day 1, hmm wasn’t the woodland we thought it would be but a heath – definitely not what we wanted, have to change on the fly in the field. Anyway it was just the start, poor Justin encountered many things over the next few days, rough access trails, 50m ravines appearing from nowhere preventing access, 450 trees to measure in one 20x50m site, bush so thick had to go on hands and knees in parts, and of course on the last day at the last park with the end in sight, a locked private gate which we were assured of didn’t exist and despite best efforts on my behalf to reach said landholder no one answered. But in the end 27 sites sampled, of course not all were we wanted them from their carefully selected ideal desktop sites, but will all make important contributions to the project’s outcomes.

Moral of this anecdote, even with the very best of intentions and lots of work from the desktop the field will always and constantly surprise you! (Nothing new here of course!)

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