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Natalie Zolfaghari Lab Report

Observing Patterns by Ecological Sampling


Aim
The aim of this experiment is to investigate the impact of Cyprus trees on soil pH and
subsequent grass density.
Introduction
When ecologists study a habitat they are aiming to account for plant and animal
distribution, correlating them to the abiotic and biotic factors that are affecting the habitat.
Abiotic means non-living, examples of which are light intensity, slope, humidity, wind
exposure and edaphic characteristics. In this investigation the abiotic factor that will be
recorded is soil pH. Biotic means living examples of which include competition, grazing
and predation. In this investigation the biotic factor recorded is density of grass and how
this is affected by the Cyprus tree. All species of plants and animals in the wild are well
adapted to their environment, the results recorded will ascertain the conditions in which rye
grass grow and whether pH of soil affects this. It is commonly believed that the acidity of
the leaf litter from the Cyprus tree affect soil pH however, another argument is that it is
actually due to the tree roots being so numerous and growing so close to the surface that
they outcompete other plants for nutrients and water. As the leaf litter decomposes at such
a slow rate the latter is likely to be true. The results of this investigation will help to refute
or support these theories.
Sampling is a critical part of any ecological study or experiment. The basic premise of
sampling is that a small portion of a population is studied in order to understand the whole
population. Ecologists rely on samples because of the difficulties in studying an entire
population. It is important not to overlook that the results of any ecological investigation
based on a sample are only as good as the sample upon which the study is based. If the
sample is not representative of the population being investigated, the inferences made from
the investigation are not valid and further investigations should be completed.
This investigation will be a transect study as this will enable the zonation in vegetation to be
studied. A transect is a line along which systematic sampling records can be made. A tape
measure is laid along one or more zones and quadrats are then used to record data at
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Natalie Zolfaghari Lab Report

regular intervals. Quadrats are often used for sampling plant communities and in this
investigation a frame quadrat will be used. It is important to sample enough quadrats to be
representative of the site. To find the optimum number of quadrats requires, the number
of species recorded in each quadrat cumulative results can be plotted against the number of
quadrats until sampling additional quadrats does not substantially increase the number of
species recorded. This type of study allows the useful data collected to be maximised while
minimising the effort required to collect them.
Hypothesis
Before making a hypothesis it is important to use biological knowledge as to what affects
plant growth. The characteristics of soil play a big part in the plant's ability to extract water
and nutrients. If plants are to grow to their potential, the soil must provide a satisfactory
environment for plant growth. Neutral soil has a pH level of 7. Acidic soil has a pH level that
is lower than 7. Alkaline soil has a pH level that is higher than 7. Knowing the pH level of soil
is important because it determines how well grass will grow.

It is therefore expected that the soil pH will increase the further from the base of the Cyprus
tree the sample is taken, and in turn the density of rye grass will increase. However, there
will be a point when pH plateaus as the Cyprus tree no longer affects pH.
Null Hypothesis
It is expected that pH will not increase the further from the base of the Cyprus tree the
sample is taken, in turn there will be no effect on the density of the rye grass recorded.

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Natalie Zolfaghari Lab Report

Variables
Independent Variable
The independent variable will be the factor that will be manipulated. This will be the
distance from which each quadrat is placed along the transect from the Cyprus tree.
Dependent variable
The dependant variable is the factor that should remain unchanged which in this case is the
size of the quadrat placed along the transect.
Controlled variable
The controlled variables are any additional factors which should remain constant
throughout the investigation. The sample of soil tested from pH should be the same weight.
In addition, any additional abiotic factors should also be recorded. For example, light
intensity due to tree coverage, soil water, humidity and oxygen concentration.
Apparatus
o Tape Measure
o Quadrat 10cm2
o Spatula
o Specimen Cups
o Scales
o Universal Indicator
Method
Lay a 5 metre tape measure (transect) from tree directly out in a straight line. Place a
10cm3 quadrat at 50cm intervals along the transect and take a soil sample from each. This
systematic sampling method ensures a reliable sample of the population is being studied. In
addition, record the percentage cover of leaf litter from tree and/or the percentage covered
from any other species (plant communities, slow moving or stationary animals. Only count
species which are rooted within the quadrat and take into consideration the coverage can
be greater than 100% if there is overlap of species. Do not count species which overhang
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Natalie Zolfaghari Lab Report

into the quadrat. The main species expected to study is rye grass. The percentage cover is
recorded within the sampling unit by estimating the space within the quadrat which the
plant entirely covers.
When the soil samples have been taken and returned to the laboratory, 0.5g of each sample
should be weighed. A clean specimen cup should be placed on the scales, the scales tared
and then the soil added to 0.5g. This should be repeated for each soil sample. 10 drops of
universal indicator should then be added to each measured sample and the colour changes
noted against a pH chart to obtain numerical data.
The experiment should then be repeated from the beginning and results recorded once
more to ensure calculated results are reliable.
Risk Assessment
When carrying out the experiment care should be taken when using laboratory apparatus to
avoid spillages and breakages and therefore, reduce risk of personal harm. In addition, a lab
coat, eye protection and gloves should be worn as the universal indicator can cause a mild
skin irritation.
At the same time, care should be taken during ecological studies outside as tree roots and
branches allow for scratches and tripping to easily occur.

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Natalie Zolfaghari Lab Report

Results
Edaphic Factors and Percentage Cover
Distance from

pH

Tree(m)

Leaf Litter

Grass Rye

(%)

(%)

0.50

9.5

99

99

1.5

8.5

99

9.5

99

2.5

10

99

10

99

3.5

10

80

20

10

55

45

4.5

10

20

80

11

100

pH of soil relative to distance


from tree.
12
10

pH

8
6
4
2
0
0

Distance from Tree (m)

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Natalie Zolfaghari Lab Report

Spearmans Rank Correlation Coefficient Statistical Analysis

Distance from Tree(m)

Rank of

Data 1

Data 2

(Distance)

(pH)

0.50

9.5

3.5

-2.5

6.25

1.5

8.5

9.5

3.5

0.5

0.25

2.5

10

-2

10

-1

3.5

10

10

4.5

10

11

10

10

d=485
Equation for Spearmans Rank
r=1-(6d/n-n)
6d = 6x18.5= 111
n-n= 1000-10 = 990
Therefore, 1-(111/990) = 0.89

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pH

Rank of

Natalie Zolfaghari Lab Report

Conclusion
After collecting and correlating the results, the hypothesis has been supported. As the
distance from the tree increases the pH increases. This has been shown by the direction of
the results plotted on the scatter gram as well as the spearman rank correlation coefficient
statistical analysis which is close to one; the indication of perfect positive correlation.
Evaluation
The results were not repeated and therefore, not reliable ideally, this experiment should be
repeated with alternative control methods such as testing of additional nutrients as well as
repeating the experiment as a whole to see if the same results are obtained. This would
ensure the results were gained without experimental error or confounding variables. When
doing an ecological study in a natural habitat it is difficult to control constant changing
abiotic factors such as temperature change, wind, climate, humidity etc. If the experiments
was repeated soil moisture, temperature and time of day should also be recorded to ensure
more extraneous variables are controlled. Human error can also occur when predicting the
percentage cover of leaf litter and other species/organisms. However, to ensure this was
controlled where possible the same individual should make each prediction; still an example
of a possible systematic error.
As this experiment also involves disturbing a natural habitat, care was also taken in
ensuring as little disruption as possible occurred and the environment was left as it was
found.

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