Using plant growth analysis to investigate the relationship between soils and plant communities at a range of sites in the Peak District.

Module aims

Plant Growth Analysis


Close links exist between the distribution of plants on the one hand and their soils and the prevailing climate on the other. If either the management or the climate changes, we can expect to see an adjustment in plant distribution.

This set of practicals will investigate the relative ability of the soils you collected in the field to sustain plant growth. This is called a bioassay.

The lecture explains the basic theory and techniques of plant growth analysis. You will use these techniques to analyse your own data from the plants you grow in the practicals.


  1. To introduce basic concepts within plant growth analysis.
  2. To gain practical skills in handling growing plant material.
  3. To advance computational skills through the medium of spreadsheet calculations and statistical analysis.

Choice of species

For the bioassay (our test how well each soil can grow plants) we will use the common grass Lolium perenne (perennial ryegrass).  As well as being a common wild grass, it is used widely in productive pasture land as a forage crop.   It is not common at any of the sites you have visited, but because it is quite a productive grass, it should be sensitive to differences in soil fertility.

Writing the final report

You are required to write a formal report synthesising the field and laboratory investigations you have undertaken during this course. Word limit 2500. Below is an extract from the L2 handbook defining what should be included in the word count.

Please adopt the following structure


Using plant growth analysis to investigate the relationship between soils and plant communities at a range of sites in the Peak District.


No abstract required


This should place the study in the context of previous research, introduce essential background information and clearly state and justify the aims of the study.

  1. General Intoduction. Consider the interaction between vegetation and soil  formation and how this is influenced by climate, parent material and human activity.
  2. Specific introduction. Decribe the findings of a few research papers where similar techniques have been used to investigate the relationship between soils and plant performance. You will be comparing your results with theses studies so try to find examples that are somewhat similar to your own study.
  3. A very brief introduction to the Peak district and the field sites visted
  4. Aims. State the overall aim of the study and how it can be addressed by gathering information from a range of field sites.

Materials and Methods.

Not required.  Since the methods are described in great detail in the schedules you are NOT required to write an account of the methods used.


This section should describe in words the main findings of the field trips and the analyses of the soils. The results section should combine written descriptions of the results, together with figures or  tables that provide a summary of the results, and to which the text refers. Try to keep the number of figures and tables to a minimum – more is not better especially if they do not show much of interest. Never present the same data twice, for example in a table and then again in a bar chart.

The results should contain the following sections:

  1. Floristic and Functional vegetational analysis of four sites in the Peak District

Include the results of the Simpson’s diversity index here for the two sites you visited.  Include an appropriate table or figure to show your findings.  Also include any conclusions from the analysis of plant functional types (CSR triangle diagrams – although these diagrams do not need to be included in the results).

  • Soil Profiles

Descriptions (written) and diagrams (figures) of the two soil profiles you visited.  You do not need to do soil profiles for sites you did not visit.

3. Plant growth Analysis

See growth analysis section for what should be included.

4. Interrelationships between the growth analysis results and soil pH.

Is plant growth rate related to soil pH? (Class pH results will be available on a google sheet). Explore the data for any correlations or patterns for example. Is RGR correlated with soil pH? Present your findings in a single figure or table.


The discussion section should provide interpretation and synthesis of the results and place them in the context of other research.

  1. Address the aims of the study and give a critical evaluation of the extent to which they were achieved.
  2. Compare and contrast the findings from the different results sections and provide interpretations of what you have found out.
  3. Link to Specific Introduction. Compare your findings with any relevant literature. This literature should have mostly been referred to in the introduction. It is important to synthesise material across the different studies to come up with some general conclusions.
  4. Link to General Introduction. Relate you overall conclusions to the bigger picture as described in your general introduction.

Reference list

(not part of word count)

In the text cite any references consulted, and in the bibliography provide a full listing of the reference in alphabetical order, by author surname.  For example:

Simard, R.R. (1993).  Ammonium Acetate-Extractable Elements.  Chapter 5 in: M.R. Carter (editor) Soil Sampling and Methods of Analysis.  Lewis Publishers.


The report should be word-processed, the text divided into the sections using headings and should be written in prose with sentences and paragraphs. The figures and tables should be placed as close to the first place they are mentioned in the text as possible.   The reports should be submitted through the “TurnItIn” folder made available of the APS246 Blackboard site. 

Useful References:

Anderson, P. & Shimwell, D. (1981). Wild Flowers and other Plants of the Peak District. Moorland Publishing, Ashbourne. [Includes a general account of vegetation history of the Peak District]

Conway, V.M. (1947). Ringinglow Bog near Sheffield. Part I  Historical. Journal of Ecology 34,    149-181

Grime (2001).  Plant Strategies, Vegetation Processes and Ecosystem Properties (Wiley, Chichester)

Hicks, S.P. (1971). Pollen analytical evidence for the effect of prehistoric agriculture on the vegetation of North Derbyshire. New Phytologist 70, 647-667. [History of woodland and origin of moorland]

Hodgson, et al., (1999). Allocating C-S-R plant functional types: a soft approach to a hard problem.  Oikos 85: 282-294

Merton, L.F.H. (1970). The history and status of woodlands on the Derbyshire limestone. Journal of Ecology 58, 723-744. [Mainly about the origin of limestone woodland, but also contains insights into the status of limestone grassland]

Pigott, C.D. (1962). Soil formation and development on the Carboniferous Limestone of Derbyshire. I. Parent  materials. Journal of Ecology 50, 145-156. [Limestone grassland soils]

Pigott, C.D. (1970). Soil formation and development on the Carboniferous Limestone of Derbyshire. II. The relation of soil to vegetation on the plateau near Coombs Dale. Journal of Ecology 58, 529-541. [Limestone grassland soils]

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