A critique of permanent plot methods and analysis with examples from Budongo Forest, Uganda

Douglas Sheil*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

113 Citations (Scopus)


Permanent sample plot (PSP) studies play a major role in ecological and management research. Bias and error may arise in such studies at each stage of the assessment procedure from plot establishment through to data interpretation, and can undermine confidence in the use of PSP data. This paper considers these problems and suggests how they might be identified and minimised. Examples are taken from Budongo Forest, Uganda, which provides some of the world's longest-term PSP data from both primary and treated tropical forest (1939-1993 and 1933-1992 respectively). Three distinct types of artefact in PSP studies are recognised: errors in methodology, impact of methodology, and mappropriate analysis. Deficiencies in each aspect of plot evaluation can have considerable influence on the evaluation of change with time and of differences between sites. Each technique can be controlled and/or improved. Data correction and 'harmonisation' procedures are discussed. Interpretation of PSP data must consider the many pitfalls of assessing such complex data. Some of the central considerations in data interpretation are reviewed and critical areas are defined e.g. time period between observations influences the evaluation of dynamic quantities. Some conclusions disagree with those of other authors. The most significant factors identified (many with implications for vegetation monitoring generally) are summarised and a set of recommendations is provided.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-34
Number of pages24
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Issue number1-3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Forest dynamics
  • Growth
  • Monitoring
  • Mortality
  • Recruitment
  • Tropical rain forest

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