Monitoring Paper from Lindemayer and Likens- Practitioner Stamp of Approval

When I read an academic paper that describes the world as we practitioners know it and propose practical situations, it’s an award-worthy thing.

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).

3 thoughts on “Monitoring Paper from Lindemayer and Likens- Practitioner Stamp of Approval”

  1. Excellent paper! I think it fits well with (but makes points much better than) what I stated in my (very layman’s) NOI comments:

    Monitoring must vary according to what is scientifically appropriate for each ecosystem and species. Habitat alone monitoring might work well for wide-ranging species that are common and not in danger of extirpation or extinction, such as plant species or common birds. Hunting collection data, such as for deer kills, might be appropriate in other situations. Snapshot surveys, like Christmas bird counts, can provide good general information for many of the more common species. Some species that are difficult to survey individually could use a surrogate approach; the prime example of such a species would be the Gopher Tortoise, which is difficult to survey itself, but very good data can be collected by surveying for its dens borrowed into the soil. Still other species, whether due to rareness or risk of extinction or other criteria, would require detailed population monitoring of nothing less than counting individuals. The Forest Service has done an excellent job of such individual counts with the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker.

    The way to comply with NFMA is not a one-size-fits-all approach, whether habitat monitoring alone or collection of individual population data on an onerous number of species. Science and common sense need to guide the planning process such that a range of monitoring techniques are used, each being appropriate for the ecosystems at issue and for the species involved.

    Monitoring is a “problem” due to differing expectations of what it is for and how it should be done. Some see monitoring as a rough, simple filter for making sure that huge, gross errors are not being made on a landscape scale. Others see it as a fine filter that should make sure that no mistakes at all are made at any scale. Both miss what should be the focus of monitoring.

    Monitoring should be designed and used to do two things: (1) make sure the plan’s vision for the forest is being met and moved forward (the course filter), and (2) ensure that rare, valuable or unique resources are not lost, either due to accident or neglect (the fine filter). All monitoring at all levels should be scientifically sound, based on real needs for that forest and designed for reasonable implementation by the agency and review and analysis by the agency and by others.

    The collaboratively-developed vision for the forest will drive the needed management and the vision and the known management options should drive the monitoring. There is no need to monitor impacts to a common aquatic species if the range of management options for the plan will never impact that species. The majority of monitoring resources must be focused on what will be impacted by what will be done. Rare and unique resources in a particular forest may require some additional reasonable level of monitoring to make sure that those things are not being lost without anyone knowing and being able to do something about it. Thus, if that aquatic species is very rare, it will need some regular monitoring even without any possible known impacts from planned management.

    Just as baseline data for the development of the plan would be based on what exists and what is needed to be known to support the plan’s vision for management, monitoring must focus on what will be impacted by the management and on what we cannot afford to lose, regardless of management impact.

    Monitoring should include some perspective of the landscape and regional populations of the species involved, but that must never be used as an excuse to impact those species adversely through management. Saying that there are lots of bald eagles in Alaska makes it okay to damage their habitat in Montana is not good management. Again, the idea is to have a reasonable level of knowledge that allows the agency and the public to know if the plan’s vision is being achieved, and if not, what can be done to adapt and change course.

    • I would only add that if it is true that we should be tracking species preferentially that are impacted by management (I agree with this), there are forests that don’t do much of that, and perhaps would then not need as much monitoring.

  2. Right, depending on the management and the species involved, there are some forests that could reduce their individual count monitoring, maybe some quite a bit. I know others that would need more monitoring. But as we showed with the largest project in agency history, the species-specific monitoring could be just two species, as they were the two most likely to be impacted by the work under the project short-term and the most likely to benefit from the work long-term, IF the work was done correctly. Which it was.


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