Riparian Plant Lab
In this field exercise for an introductory environmental science course, students investigate plant cover and type in a riparian area using transects. Students work in small groups along their individual transects to record plant cover type every 0.5 meter and then compile data for all student groups. The final project is a lab report that includes a summary data table, a graph of cover types along their transect and an analysis of riparian health.
- Define "riparian zone"
- Identify common riparian trees and shrubs
- Review anthropogenic impacts on riparian zones
- Collect vegetation data using line transects
- Compile and interpret data using graphs and tables
- Write a basic scientific lab report
Methods of GeoscienceAlthough this activity is focused on the ecological role of riparian plants, the concepts link to general geoscience methods such as field notes, field data collection, field observation skills, spatial relationships, and field data interpretation.
Context for Use
Description and Teaching Materials
As the students and instructor walk to the riparian area they learn to identify common riparian trees and shrubs. The instructor can point out non-native plants as well, and help students make observations about the health of the riparian area.
Once in the riparian area, students divide into small groups and set up a transect perpendicular to the stream or river using a meter tape. At 0.5 m intervals students record the plant cover at that point – bare ground, litter, grass, shrubs, trees – on their data sheet. Once students reach a point beyond the riparian area they stop collecting data and reconvene with the lab instructor.
Next each group reports their totals for each plant cover class so as to compile total percentages for each cover type in the riparian area. The lab instructor gives an overview of how to graph and interpret the riparian plant data, and how to write the lab report.
Students write their lab report and turn it in at the third watershed lab.
Two files are attached for this lab. The first file is a prelab reading about riparian plants that describes the logistics, goals and objectives, and concepts of the lab. The second file is the riparian plant lab assignment, with a data table, summary data table, and a grade sheet for the lab report assignment.