Here is a great (in my opinion) review paper Lindenmayer&Likens2010.Science&ApplicationEcologicalMonitoring that resonates with some of my simplistic comments about how we approach viability in the post below.
Here’s some of my favorite quotes from the paper- what are yours?
5.4. Squabbles about what to monitor
An alternative response by some workers to the ‘‘laundry-list” approach has been to argue that ‘‘indicator species” or ‘‘indicator groups” should be the targets of monitoring programs (Andersen and Majer, 2004; Cantarello and Newton, 2008; Dung and Webb, 2008; McLaren et al., 1998; Sparrow et al., 1994; Spellerberg, 1994; Woodward et al., 1999). Many would argue that the group of organisms they study is special and any valid monitoring program cannot proceed without including them. We have found that over 55 major taxonomic groups have been proposed as indicators for monitoring programs, ranging from viruses and fungi and bryophytes to invertebrates and virtually all major vertebrate groups.
We found that only very rarely was it explicitly stated: (1) what these species or groups were actually indicative of, particularly at the ecosystem level and (2) the circumstances where these species or groups were or were not appropriate indicators. We believe that the problems of ‘‘laundry lists” and indicator species can be avoided by carefully crafting questions at the onset of a monitoring program, using a well-conceived model to help conceptualize a particular ecosystem and make predictions about ecosystem behaviour and response (see below). These key steps will help identify those entities most appropriate for monitoring.
I have sat through some very painful laundry list and “you should monitor them because I who have studied them for thirty years say that they are critical to the ecosystem” kinds of discussions. Here’s to clarity about why you want to monitor things, and why you think they are more important than other things you could be monitoring!
True collaborative partnerships are also essential because policy-makers and resource managers will often not know how to
frame questions in ways that can be resolved by well-executed monitoring, or may initially pose too many questions without prioritizing them. They also may have unreasonable expectations about what questions or problems can and cannot be solved by scientific projects and how much effective monitoring can cost. Thus, policy-makers need to understand better the scientific approach and the importance of posing the right questions in the correct way. Conversely, scientists need to articulate better what kinds of questions they can and cannot answer. They also need to understand
better the complexity of the policy process (Clark, 2002;Pielke, 2007). Scientists will often not fully comprehend the kinds
of key problems faced by policy-makers and resource managers that need to be addressed by long-term monitoring (Russell-Smith et al., 2003). Nor will scientists necessarily be fully aware of the policy options and the range of on-ground, management interventions available for testing and monitoring in a particular ecosystem (Walters, 1986).
And, eerily similar to the earmark idea:
Access to funding is an obvious factor influencing the success of monitoring programs. Many aspects of funding are not well suited to the establishment and maintenance of such programs. Monitoring programs are often seen as a luxury and not core for many resource management organizations. They are therefore usually the last initiatives to be funded and the first ones to be cut during budget shortfalls. In addition, budget cycles emphasize short-term projects
with rapid achievement of milestones. Funding initiatives of 1–3 years are rarely congruent with the timeframes appropriate
for effective monitoring. Thus, there often is a fundamental mismatch between long-term environmental management aspirations and short-term financial realities. We believe funding models based on endowments may be useful to circumvent problems associated with short-term funding problems. An outstanding example is the 175-year research program at Rothamsted in England (Rothamsted Research, 2006).