Power analysis to determine sample size for monitoring vegetation change in salt marsh habitats

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Numerous initiatives are underway throughout New England and elsewhere to quantify salt marsh vegetation change, mostly in response to habitat restoration, sea level rise, and nutrient enrichment. To detect temporal changes in vegetation at a marsh or to compare vegetation among different marshes with a degree of statistical certainty an adequate sample size is required. Based on sampling 1 m2 vegetation plots from 11 New England salt marsh data sets, we conducted a power analysis to determine the minimum number of samples that were necessary to detect change between vegetation communities. Statistical power was determined for sample sizes of 5, 10, 15, and 20 vegetation plots at an alpha level of 0.05. Detection of subtle differences between vegetation data sets (e.g., comparing vegetation in the same marsh over two consecutive years) can be accomplished using a sample size of 20 plots with a reasonable probability of detecting a difference when one truly exists. With a lower sample size, and thus lower power, there is an increased probability of not detecting a difference when one exists (e.g., Type II error). However, if investigators expect to detect major changes in vegetation (e.g., such as those between an un-impacted and a highly impacted marsh) then a sample size of 5, 10, or 15 plots may be appropriate while still maintaining adequate power. Due to the relative ease of collecting vegetation data, we suggest a minimum sample size of 20 randomly located 1 m2 plots when developing monitoring designs to detect vegetation community change of salt marshes. The sample size of 20 plots per New England salt marsh is appropriate regardless of marsh size or permanency (permanent or non-permanent) of the plots. © 2007 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.

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Wetlands Ecology and Management