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Southeast Coast Network (SECN)

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Plant Community Monitoring

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park

Plant Community Monitoring Reports & Briefs

For more information contact: Michael W. Byrne

Monitoring Objectives

Determine trends in plant species abundance, percent cover, diversity, and distribution in the herbaceous, shrub, and overstory strata.


The plant communities' vital sign is the second-highest ranked Vital Sign for SECN parks. Vegetation integrates the biological and physical environment and is the foundation for trophic food webs and wildlife habitat. Consequently, results from plant community monitoring is essential for detecting changes to aid management decisions relative to preserving biodiversity and management of wildlife and, threatened and endangered species.

In many parks, plant communities are at risk of degradation due to natural and anthropogenic agents of change, including non-native species influxes (both plant and animal), fire suppression, sea level rise, and changes in regional and local hydrology. Numerous biotic and abiotic factors have altered and continue to threaten plant communities within SECN. Examples of these disturbances include past logging and human settlement, pine beetle infestation, and development encroachment. As plant communities continue to respond from past resource extraction and grazing, there is a need to understand how current activities are affecting the response. It is also important to monitor and evaluate changes to the composition of plant communities and type changes occurring on the landscape. Current and past management activities may also have differential effects on species composition.

Monitoring Approach

Field methods will be designed to simultaneously measure plant communities and wildlife habitats, and fuel loads. These methods will be based upon the North Carolina Vegetation Survey protocol (Peet et al. 1998) and others as applicable (Canfield 1941, Lemmon 1956, Daubenmire 1959, Fire Monitoring Handbook 2003). Methods will be developed such that they are applicable at both permanent and temporary selected plots. According to Peet et al. (1998), this methodology is appropriate for diverse applications, incorporates multiple scales, yields data compatible with those from other common methods, and may be applied across a broad range of vegetation types. Methods will be developed such that they are applicable at both permanent and temporary selected plots. Vital Sign Measures include: down woody debris; duff depth; species occurrence; species diversity; percent cover; rooting by feral hogs and armadillos; disease occurrence, insect outbreaks and non-native/invasive species; and National Vegetation Classification System Class.

Data are collected in three structural strata: herbaceous, shrub, and overstory. Site selection is determined by a spatially-balanced random sampling method. Plant community monitoring will be conducted on a three- to five-year rotating schedule for all parks. Plant sampling will be coordinated with wildlife protocols so that sites are co-located to the greatest extent possible in both space and time.

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Parks Where Protocol Will Be Implemented

All SECN parks.

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  • Canfield, R.H. 1941. Application of the line intercept method in sampling range vegetation. Journal of Forestry 39: 388-394.
  • Daubenmire, R.F. 1959. A canopy coverage method of vegetation analysis. Northwest Science 33: 43-64.
  • Lemmon, P. 1956. A spherical densiometer for estimating forest overstory density. Forest Science 2: 314-320.
  • Peet, R. K., T. R. Wentworth, and P. S. White. A Flexible, Multipurpose Method for Recording Vegetation Composition and Structure. 1998.
  • USDI National Park Service. 2003. Fire Monitoring Handbook. Boise (ID): Fire Management Program Center, National Interagency Fire Center. 274p.

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Last Updated: December 30, 2016 Contact Webmaster