Skip to main content

Data from: A new digital method of data collection for spatial point pattern analysis in grassland communities

Cite this dataset

Jiang, Chao; Wang, Xinting (2021). Data from: A new digital method of data collection for spatial point pattern analysis in grassland communities [Dataset]. Dryad.


A major objective of plant ecology research is to determine the underlying processes responsible for the observed spatial distribution patterns of plant species. Plants can be approximated as points in space for this purpose, and thus, spatial point pattern analysis has become increasingly popular in ecological research. The basic piece of data for point pattern analysis is a point location of an ecological object in some study region. Therefore, point pattern analysis can only be performed if data can be collected. However, due to the lack of a convenient sampling method, a few previous studies have used point pattern analysis to examine the spatial patterns of grassland species. This is unfortunate because being able to explore point patterns in grassland systems has widespread implications for population dynamics, community-level patterns and ecological processes. In this study, we develop a new method to measure individual coordinates of species in grassland communities. This method records plant growing positions via digital picture samples that have been sub-blocked within a geographical information system (GIS). Here, we tested out the new method by measuring the individual coordinates of Stipa grandis in grazed and ungrazed S. grandis communities in a temperate steppe ecosystem in China. Furthermore, we analyzed the pattern of S. grandis by using the pair correlation function g(r) with both a homogeneous Poisson process and a heterogeneous Poisson process. Our results showed that individuals of S. grandis were overdispersed according to the homogeneous Poisson process at 0-0.16 m in the ungrazed community, while they were clustered at 0.19 m according to the homogeneous and heterogeneous Poisson processes in the grazed community. These results suggest that competitive interactions dominated the ungrazed community, while facilitative interactions dominated the grazed community. In sum, we successfully executed a new sampling method, using digital photography and a Geographical Information System, to collect experimental data on the spatial point patterns for the populations in this grassland community.


1. Data collection using digital photographs and GIS

A flat 5 m x 5 m sampling block was chosen in a study grassland community and divided with bamboo chopsticks into 100 sub-blocks of 50 cm x 50 cm (Fig. 1). A digital camera was then mounted to a telescoping stake and positioned in the center of each sub-block to photograph vegetation within a 0.25 m2 area. Pictures were taken 1.75 m above the ground at an approximate downward angle of 90° (Fig. 2). Automatic camera settings were used for focus, lighting and shutter speed. After photographing the plot as a whole, photographs were taken of each individual plant in each sub-block. In order to identify each individual plant from the digital images, each plant was uniquely marked before the pictures were taken (Fig. 2 B).

Digital images were imported into a computer as JPEG files, and the position of each plant in the pictures was determined using GIS. This involved four steps: 1) A reference frame (Fig. 3) was established using R2V software to designate control points, or the four vertexes of each sub-block (Appendix S1), so that all plants in each sub-block were within the same reference frame. The parallax and optical distortion in the raster images was then geometrically corrected based on these selected control points; 2) Maps, or layers in GIS terminology, were set up for each species as PROJECT files (Appendix S2), and all individuals in each sub-block were digitized using R2V software (Appendix S3). For accuracy, the digitization of plant individual locations was performed manually; 3) Each plant species layer was exported from a PROJECT file to a SHAPE file in R2V software (Appendix S4); 4) Finally each species layer was opened in Arc GIS software in the SHAPE file format, and attribute data from each species layer was exported into Arc GIS to obtain the precise coordinates for each species. This last phase involved four steps of its own, from adding the data (Appendix S5), to opening the attribute table (Appendix S6), to adding new x and y coordinate fields (Appendix S7) and to obtaining the x and y coordinates and filling in the new fields (Appendix S8).

2. Data reliability assessment

To determine the accuracy of our new method, we measured the individual locations of Leymus chinensis, a perennial rhizome grass, in representative community blocks 5 m x 5 m in size in typical steppe habitat in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China in July 2010 (Fig. 4 A). As our standard for comparison, we used a ruler to measure the individual coordinates of L. chinensis. We tested for significant differences between (1) the coordinates of L. chinensis, as measured with our new method and with the ruler, and (2) the pair correlation function g of L. chinensis, as measured with our new method and with the ruler (see section 3.2 Data Analysis). If (1) the coordinates of L. chinensis, as measured with our new method and with the ruler, and (2) the pair correlation function g of L. chinensis, as measured with our new method and with the ruler, did not differ significantly, then we could conclude that our new method of measuring the coordinates of L. chinensis was reliable.

We compared the results using a t-test (Table 1). We found no significant differences in either (1) the coordinates of L. chinensis or (2) the pair correlation function g of L. chinensis. Further, we compared the pattern characteristics of L. chinensis when measured by our new method against the ruler measurements using a null model. We found that the two pattern characteristics of L. chinensis did not differ significantly based on the homogenous Poisson process or complete spatial randomness (Fig. 4 B). Thus, we concluded that the data obtained using our new method was reliable enough to perform point pattern analysis with a null model in grassland communities.


National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: 2017MS0302

Basic Research Expenses Special Funds of the Central Public Welfare Scientific Research Institutes, Award: 1610332016002

Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Award: No. CAAS-ASTIP-2020-IGR-05

National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: University of Technology ZD201403