Biological Monitoring and Assessment Projects
SOUND SCIENCE LLC specializes in the creation of monitoring projects and programs. We help organizations craft quantifiable monitoring objectives based on their land condition and species conservation goals, and design assessments that effectively measure progress toward achieving the objectives. We offer assistance in crafting targeted monitoring programs that measure conservation success at local, statewide, and regional scales.
We provide our clients support throughout the adaptive management process. Our capabilities include facilitation of stakeholder meetings to identify monitoring targets, consultation on study design, development of rigorous sampling protocols, and the analysis, interpretation, and reporting of monitoring data. We also provide training in core monitoring principles. Training sessions may be customized to meet individual clients’ needs.
Any organization conducting biological monitoring in a land or watershed management context has implied, or explicit, management goals. These goals articulate what the organization wants the land and its water bodies to look like (with respect to specific attributes), or not look like. The purpose of biological monitoring and assessment is the measurement of the land’s or water’s condition relative to these goals. Ideally, the results of monitoring indicate whether management goals are being achieved and therefore whether current management actions are effective or new ones are needed. That is, effective monitoring is the core informational basis of adaptive management. Far too often, monitoring efforts are ineffectual because they focus solely on data acquisition and are isolated from, and have little relevance to, management goals or actions.
What attributes or qualities on the landscape does the organization wish to achieve through management? How effectively, and with what analytical precision, can the monitoring assess these attributes? Effective and useful monitoring, which we define as answering important land and watershed management questions with an efficient use of resources, is characterized by the following imperatives.
• Know the ecological system, its character, and its stability.
• Know the intended and required land use and its likely impacts on the landscape and its water bodies.
• Know what environmental information the decision-makers need to make decisions about the use of lands.
• Know when information is needed to inform management decisions.
• Be an essential information bridge between the use of lands and their maintenance and restoration; that is, information for “adaptive management”.
For any specific monitoring protocol seven elements are necessary for an effective design.
• What is the land or watershed management problem being addressed? A clear statement of the problem is necessary to understand how to monitor it.
• What is the priority of this problem? The importance of the problem guides the recommended intensity of the monitoring and the resources that should be devoted to it.
• Narrow the scope. The monitoring project should focus narrowly on the stated problem. Poorly focused protocols tend to be inefficient and perhaps poor instruments for understanding the problem.
• What is the Management Goal? What is the population, managed area, landscape or watershed supposed to look like, or not look like? A well-designed monitoring protocol requires clear and well-articulated management goals.
• What are the simplest, easiest and clearest attributes that sufficiently describe this Goal? The monitoring should be directly focused on these characters of the problem.
• How much change is too much (or too little)? How much change is biologically meaningful? Or, with how much precision is an attribute to be measured? Efficient designs require that managers state how much precision is needed and/or how much change the project must be able to detect. A coarse design may not detect the level of change that land managers wish to detect. A design that is needlessly intensive is wasteful of resources.
• What is the design? How will change be measured or assessed? With sampling, with extensive qualitative methods, or both? What kind of sampling?
The answers to the first six imperatives largely dictate the actual design. Thus, when Sound Science LLC evaluates or designs a specific monitoring project, the starting point is the overarching question of land or watershed management, because without clear management goals, monitoring cannot be effective. At that point the design details of the project can be created and evaluated.
These are the principles, for example, that drive Sound Science's design of the Colorado State Insectary's landscape-scale monitoring of the success of biocontrol of Tamarisk. See below right for a photo of a population of Tamarisk along the Colorado River after attack by an herbivorous beetle, an introduced biocontrol agent.
Monitoring a Tamarisk biocontrol project along the Colorado River.
(Photo by David Maddox)