An examination of observer bias as a source of error in surveys of seagrass shoots


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Abstract Mensurative experiments investigated the effects of different observers on estimates of the density of shoots of two species of seagrass: Posidonia australis Hook and Zostera capricorni Aschers. Balanced programmes of sampling were used to examine variation in counts of seagrass shoots attributable to different observers, sizes of quadrats, depths and locations within large beds of each species of seagrass. A separate experiment examined differences between novice observers and a more experienced observer, when an ‘optimal’ size of sampling unit was used. Estimated densities of Zostera shoots varied inconsistently among observers, quadrats, depths and locations. Differences between observers were not affected by the size of quadrat used to count Posidonia shoots, but varied between locations in the seagrass bed. Experience had only a minor impact on biases. Only two of 12 novices produced counts that were different from the experienced observer. These results emphasize the importance of considering both accuracy and precision in the design of field studies of seagrasses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-281
Number of pages9
JournalAustralian Journal of Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • observer bias
  • Posidonia australis
  • sampling
  • seagrass
  • Zostera capricorni


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