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A quadrat is a plot used in ecology and geography to isolate a standard unit of area for study of the distribution of an item over a large area. While originally rectangular, modern quadrats can be rectangular, circular, irregular, etc.,. The quadrat is suitable for sampling plants, slow-moving animals (such as millipedes and insects), and some aquatic organisms.
When an ecologist wants to know how many organisms there are in a particular habitat, it would not be feasible to count them all. Instead, they would be forced to count a smaller representative part of the population, called a sample. Sampling of plants or animals that do not move much (such as snails), can be done using a sampling square called a quadrat. A suitable size of a quadrat depends on the size of the organisms being sampled. For example, to count plants growing on a school field, one could use a quadrat with sides 0.5 or 1 metre in length. Choice of quadrat size depends to a large extent on the type of survey being conducted. For instance, it would be difficult to gain any meaningful results using a 0.5m2 quadrat in a study of a woodland canopy.
It is important that sampling in an area is carried out at random, to avoid bias. For example, if you were sampling from a school field, but for convenience only placed quadrats next to a path, this might not give a sample that was representative of the whole field. It would be an unrepresentative, or biased, sample. One way one can sample randomly is to place the quadrats at coordinates on a numbered grid.
Long-term studies may require that the same quadrats be revisited months or even years after initial sampling. Methods of relocating the precise area of study vary widely in accuracy, and include measurement from nearby permanent markers, use of total station theodolites, consumer-grade GPS, and differential GPS.
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