Botanical Transect Mapping

John Paul, University of San Francisco

Sarah R. Hall, College of the Atlantic

Calla Schmidt, University of San Francisco

Becca Walker, Mt. San Antonio College


Students gain experience "reading" landscapes using geologic, hydrological, and botanical/ecological techniques. They learn two simple and widely used methods for quantitatively measuring the density of individuals and diversity of morphospecies and repeat the basic transect protocols at a number of different sites. This will allow students to see how both the density and diversity of individuals and species change with landscape features. These activities facilitate students using the density, diversity, and distribution of plant species to characterize landscapes. Additionally, students consider questions such as, "How do geology, geomorphology, and hydrology regulate plant species density, diversity, and distribution?" and "How can plants help us understand something about the geology, geomorphology, and/or hydrology of landscapes?"

Botanical transect mapping was done at multiple field sites and also served as part of the Mono North Synthesis Project in conjunction with the following activities.

Mono Lake North Geomorphic Mapping Mono Lake North Shoreline Stratigraphy

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals

Content/Concept Goals:

Students will....

  • Establish line transects.
  • Establish quadrats.
  • Measure density and percent cover of plant morphospecies.
  • Calculate individual density and morphospecies diversity using field data.

Higher Order Thinking Skills Goals:

Students will..

  • Compare and contrast ecological/botanical data (density, percent cover, morphospecies present) among different field sites.
  • Make inferences about relationships between geologic, geomorphologic, hydrologic, and ecologic characteristics at different field sites.

Other Skills Goals for this Activity:

Students will...

  • Collect and record ecological data (transect and quadrat data, plant morphospecies) in a field notebook.
  • Make notes about the bedrock and surficial geology; geomorphology (geomorphic features, slope, aspect); and hydrologic regime of the field site in a field notebook.

Context for Use


This activity was completed at different locations during the 2-week summer E-STEM Field Course with ~20 undergraduate students interested in environmental science.

Prerequisite Skills and Concepts:

How the Activity is Situated in the Course:

This activity is repeated at the throughout the course, and is part of the Mono Lake North Synthesis Project in which it is run simultaneous to the Mono Lake Stratigraphy and Mono Lake North Geomorphic Mapping. Each ~2-3 hour activity was run as a station that students rotated through throughout the day. The order does not matter. View the E-STEM field course timeline for more information about how this activity is situated in the course.

Description and Teaching Materials

The first botanical transect mapping exercise should include a demonstration in the field of how to set up a transect and any guidelines for conducting the transect (for example, perhaps students should ignore grasses in their transect at a particular field site.) At subsequent field sites, there is typically a brief introductory walkabout during which new morphospecies are pointed out.
Some instructors may choose to assign each team a specific area for completing their transect, while other instructors may choose to make student site selection part of the activity. Some instructors may choose to have students complete botanical observations in conjunction with their botanical transect. Calculations and graphical representations of the data are typically completed during office time upon the conclusion of the field exercise. Students should be reminded to divide the labor during the field exercise so that everyone gets a chance to be the recorder and measurer. For quality control purposes, multiple students should be involved in the identification portion of the transect.

Student Handouts:

Ecology Density, Diversity, Distribution Activities (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 19kB Jun26 20)

Calculating the Shannon Diversity Index (Microsoft Word 37kB Jun26 20)

Mono North Ecological Field Methods Instructions for Analysis (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 19kB Jun26 20)

McGee Creek Synthesis Botany Write-Up (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 17kB Jun26 20)

Necessary Materials:

  • 50 m tape
  • metersticks
  • flagging
  • pencils
  • hand-lens
  • clipboard/mapboard
  • Jepson Manual

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity takes approximately 2-3 hours with the students in groups of (2-4) working together. There is typically very little shade available. It helps if students are wearing long pants while moving through densely vegetated areas. Encourage students to make some geology/geomorphology/hydrology observations at the field site and record them in their field notebook.