Identify | Hypothesis | Procedure | Collect | Analyze Data | Conclusion | Presentation
Now that you've planned your study and developed a research question or hypothesis, you can start collecting data. There are three principal ways scientists collect data in biodiversity research:
This involves going out into the field and physically collecting the data. The "field" can be any place where you're likely to find biodiversity. As you can imagine, this is almost everywhere on earth!
This refers to data collected from satellite images or aerial photography and videography. These images are particularly important in helping to detect environmental changes in ecosystems over extended periods of time and enable scientists to study much larger areas.
Analyzing existing datasets
This involves gathering data that other people have collected (with their permission, of course) and analyzing it in a different way. This is a very good option if you are interested in a part of the world that you can't get to yourself or if you want to compare the data that you collect with data from other parts of the world.
The most common method – and the one you are most likely to use for your project – is field sampling. Following are some tools and techniques you could use to help you collect data.
You should always keep a project journal handy to record the progress of your report.
Each day you spend in the field, record a journal entry with detailed and accurate notes about your observations. Every entry should include the following:
- Date and time
- Exact location where data is being collected (perhaps with a map of the area and coordinates of each site)
- Description of location, including biotic and abiotic factors
- Weather conditions (temperature, wind, cloud cover, precipitation)
- Species observed (Include a list with estimates of the number of individuals encountered. If you collect any specimens, be sure to catalog them with detailed measurements and location descriptions.)
- Other observations and questions (Use your senses and record what you see, hear, smell, and touch.)
Your journal may also include photographs to help explain and demonstrate your experimental results and to provide visual information for your final project presentation. Be very precise in describing where your photographs are taken and label them accurately.
EXAMPLE: See an example of a field journal.
If you repeat the same observations and measurements over and over again, you may find that setting up a data sheet is useful. A data sheet can be used to record information during the project, remind you of measurements to be made, and keep your data organized. In addition, clear and organized data sheets will help you analyze your data once it's been collected. Always include date, time, location (map coordinates), and space for general comments and observations that may not fit any of your categories.
One way to measure the biodiversity of an area is to establish a transect and study the species and abiotic factors that are found there. A transect is a long, narrow sampling area. Even though it uses just a small section of a large area, it produces a fairly accurate representation of biotic and abiotic factors in a community.
A transect's size will depend on the area you are studying. An example would be 20 meters by 500 meters. This would be divided into 25 subplots that are 20 meters by 20 meters. The size of the transect should be decided by considering questions such as the following: What is your research question? What is the size of individual plant species? Is the area high in plant diversity or is the population clumped? What size area can you accurately survey? Will you measure ground cover? Canopy cover? Biomass?
How to set up a transect
1. Using a random number table, select a random number of meters from where you are (e.g. your campsite, the trail, etc.) to where you will begin your transect.
2. Choose your starting point to ensure that the start of your transect will be located in the habitat that you wish to study.
3. Locate the start of the transect at least 5-10 m from the edge of the trail to reduce the effects of the trail on vegetation.
Another technique for sampling is using a plot. Plots are used by researchers all over the world and can provide you with data for comparison. A common plot size is 100 meters by 100 meters, which could be further subdivided into 16 25-square-meter plots. Depending on the research problem you have stated, you might want to make your plot smaller, such as 1 meter by 1 meter or 10 meters by 10 meters. Be sure to give yourself an area that will allow you to collect enough data that you will be able to analyze the results correctly.
Go to Step 5: Analyze Your Data >>