The Great Frisbee Extravaganza

Adopted from an original idea by Chris Wolfe & Expanded Upon By Hays Cummins/Western Program

I have never seen so many brittle stars! Bocas, Panama.

R. Hays Cummins, Western Program, Miami University


It is 12:33:09 PM on Friday, November 27, 2020. This page has served 53823 visitors and was last updated on Wednesday, May 7, 2014.

The Twilight Zone--Realities of Sampling the Real World

"Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall, I'd love to turn you on......" The Beatles "A Day in a Life," Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band


Oftentimes scientists are asked to estimate the number of individuals present in a community and in what ways individuals are distributed in a given environment or habitat. As you might expect, some problems are more easily solved than others. If the question concerns the number and location of ginkgo trees on campus and only six ginkgo trees are here, the study approach would be simple indeed. If, on the other hand, the target organism is abundant and widely distributed, things can get pretty dicey! Here are just some examples of how daunting the task can be:

So, what's the point? Scientists are faced with these types of research questions all of the time. In most instances, researchers, regardless of their research question, are unable to sample all there is to sample! It is impossible because our world is a big place! So, alternative strategies must be developed. Before any sampling begins, good researchers take the time to develop a common-sense study design that maximizes the amount of information obtained and addresses the question(s) at hand. Perhaps the most important part of a study (besides the research question itself) is the development of an effective sampling strategy, one that is statistically sound and addresses the needs of the research question. Sampling Design can make or break a project!

Which leads me to......

The Frisbee Lab--An Exercise in Sampling Design

This is a lab about sampling and the use of basic statistics. It is also an introduction to the scientific method, data collection, statistical analyses and interpreting results. I hope you keep this lesson in mind when it comes to doing your own research!

Suppose we asked you to estimate the number of clovers present, and if there are preferred abundance locations in Cook field. How would you do it? Is there a favored experimental technique? In this instance, can one ever count everything? And, if you had the time, would it be worth the effort? Although we will never know just how many clovers are in the field, we may be more confident of our estimates if you develop a good experimental design.

A Frisbee Quicktime Movie

Students Sampling Clovers. What is your guess as to the number of clovers in Cook Field?

The Tasks at Hand

Consider the relationship shown on the graph: How many tosses does it take before you have reached a plateau of maximum clover abundance per toss?

Practical Concerns


More Considerations:

Comparing Your Two Study Designs

Compare the results of each sampling strategy with one another. Make a prediction as to whether or not each sampling strategy yielded statiscally similar results. Use a t-test to compare your data. If there are significant differences in your comparisons, discuss at least three reasons why these differences might exist. If the comparisons are not significantly different, discuss these findings as well.

The Frisbee Lab is used in several of our courses[Tropical Marine Ecology of San Salvador, Bahamas; From the Universe to the Duck Pond: Exploring Patterns & Processes in Natural Systems; & Evolution & Earth Systems] to introduce students to sampling design and basic statistical analysis.

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