iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry


Advantages of the point-intercept method for assessing functional diversity in semi-arid areas

Alice Nunes (1-2), Susana Tápia (1), Pedro Pinho (1-3), Otília Correia (1), Cristina Branquinho (1)   

iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry, Volume 8, Issue 4, Pages 471-479 (2014)
doi: https://doi.org/10.3832/ifor1261-007
Published: Oct 31, 2014 - Copyright © 2014 SISEF

Research Articles

Collection/Special Issue: IUFRO 7.01.00 - Ilhéus (Brazil, 2013) & Beijing (China, 2014)
Forest Response to Climate Change and Air Pollution
Guest Editors: Paoletti E, Kozovitz A, Feng Z, Bytnerowicz A

Semi-arid areas are particularly susceptible to the loss of biodiversity as a consequence of global change. Species functional traits are key drivers of functioning and resilience of ecosystems, thus monitoring of functional trait diversity is urgently needed. The assessment of functional diversity requires the quantification of species and/or their traits in the field, though there is no consensus on the best plant-sampling method to be used. The aim of this study was to compare the performance of the point-intercept (PT) method with two area-based approaches, the modified-Whittaker (MW) and Dengler (DE) methods, to assess functional diversity in semi-arid areas. The herbaceous community of a savanna-like Mediterranean woodland was surveyed at the two extremes of a regional precipitation gradient (dry to wet). Efficiency in the quantification of species/ traits, precision of cover estimates, and their effect on functional diversity metrics computed for eight functional traits were compared. Results showed that the examined methods differed in their efficiency in quantifying species/traits in both sites. With the DE method, fewer species were detected than with the MW and PT methods, which yielded similar values. The PT method had a higher precision in the quantification of both dominant and non-dominant species/traits. It also had a higher community evenness, mainly in the wet location, which allowed the analysis of a greater number of species/traits within the 80% “dominance” threshold (i.e., species representing 80% of the relative cover of community), a critical aspect of functional diversity assessments. In addition, the PT method yielded higher estimates for multi-trait functional evenness, as well as different estimates (either higher or lower than MW and DE) of single-trait community weighted means (for N-fixing ability and flowering onset), functional dispersion (for N-fixing ability and specific leaf area), and functional evenness (for height and flowering onset). In spite of the observed differences among methods in the assessment of functional diversity, the PT approach demonstrated important advantages in the non-destructive, fine-scale monitoring of semi-arid areas, where “less dominant” species may play a critical role.


Dengler Method, Drylands, Field Plant Sampling, Functional Structure, Functional Diversity, Grassland, Modified-Whittaker, Point-intercept Method

Authors’ address

Alice Nunes
Susana Tápia
Pedro Pinho
Otília Correia
Cristina Branquinho
Centro de Biologia Ambiental, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade de Lisboa, Campo Grande, C2, Piso 5, 1749-016 Lisboa (Portugal)
Alice Nunes
Departamento de Biologia e CESAM-Centre for Environmental and Marine Studies, Universidade de Aveiro, Campus Universitário de Santiago, 3810-193 Aveiro (Portugal)
Pedro Pinho
CERENA- Centro de Recursos Naturais e Ambiente, Universidade de Lisboa, Instituto Superior Técnico, Av. Rovisco Pais, 1049-001 Lisboa (Portugal)

Corresponding author

Cristina Branquinho


Nunes A, Tápia S, Pinho P, Correia O, Branquinho C (2014). Advantages of the point-intercept method for assessing functional diversity in semi-arid areas. iForest 8: 471-479. - doi: 10.3832/ifor1261-007

Academic Editor

Elena Paoletti

Paper history

Received: Feb 02, 2014
Accepted: Jul 16, 2014

First online: Oct 31, 2014
Publication Date: Aug 02, 2015
Publication Time: 3.57 months

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