contributed by Jason Karl and Karen Colson
Cover – Quantitative
Description and Uses
Line-Point Intercept is a rapid and accurate method for quantifying soil cover, which in addition to vegetation, includes cover by litter, rocks and biological soil crusts. With this method, cover is measured along a linear transect line and is based on the number of “hits” on a target species out of the total number of points measured along that line. It is used when precise, repeatable measurements are required.
There are three main techniques for measuring cover: Ocular or Visual Estimates, Point Intercept, or Line Intercept. Point intercept is considered to be the least biased of all three. Line-point intercept in particular can be used to generate more indicators than virtually any other monitoring method. For example, height measurements or additional information on vegetation structure can be added into this technique. See Monitoring Manual for Grasslands, Shrublands, and Savanna Ecosystems VII (Herrick et al. 2009) for a comparison of the different variations of this technique.
There can be slight differences in the way this method is executed. For example, pins or optical sighting devices can be used, the angle of the point intercept and the size of the pin used can vary, and cover can be measured for a single layer or multiple layers of vegetation. Therefore, the monitoring methodology should always be very specific about the approached used.
Advantages and Limitations
The Line-Point Intercept method is the least biased and most objective of the three basic cover methods described above. It is also a fairly rapid technique. One of its limitations however is that species with very low cover values, such as rare plant species, are often not intersected by the points and therefore are not adequately sampled. It is also difficult to detect small changes (which is a common disadvantage of many other techniques as well). Therefore, sample design is extremely important when using this method (e.g., determining how many points are sampled and the number and placement of transects in the sample area).
Line-point intercept is a variation of a more general point-intercept method. When conducting other point-intercept methods, the sampling unit depends on the arrangement of points. Points can be measured in frames (the frame being the sampling unit), as a single randomly located point (with each point being the sampling unit), or as points along a transect (which allows for either the points or the transect be used as the sampling unit). Line-point intercept is the mostly commonly used variation of point intercept and perhaps the most efficient. For information on the other variations of this method refer to Elzinga et al. 2001.
Line-point intercept is a method for acquiring information on vegetation cover. Other similar methods include Step Point (a quick derivation of line-point intercept that is more rapid because no tape is required, but also more subjective), Daubenmire plots or other ocular estimates, and photo plots – visual record.
- Monitoring Manual for Grasslands, Shrublands, and Savanna Ecosystems (Herrick et al. 2009).
- Measuring and Monitoring Plant Populations (Elzinga et al. 2001).
Technical and Application References
- Bonham, C.D. 1989. Measurements for terrestrial vegetation. New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons.
- Brady, W.W.; Mitchell, J.E.; Bonham, C.D.; Cook, J.W. 1995. Assessing the power of the point-line transect to monitor changes in basal plant cover. Journal of Range Management 48: 187-190.
- Goodall, D.W. 1952. Some considerations in the use of point quadrats for the analysis of vegetation. Australian Journal of Scientific Research, Series B 5: 1-41.
Printable data forms for the Line-point Intercept method can be downloaded from
Electronic data forms can be found at the following sites
- Line-point intercept data can be recorded directly into the Rangeland Database in the field.
- An Excel version of the Line-point Intercept method data form that automatically calculates cover percentages can be found at the Jornada Experimental Range Monitoring and Assessment Site.
- An version of the Line-point Intercept Excel form that is compatible with electronic PDAs can also be downloaded from the Jornada Experimental Range Monitoring and Assessment Site