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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Long-Term Ecological Monitoring

item Havstad, Kris
item Herrick, Jeffrey

Submitted to: Arid Land Research and Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: April 3, 2003
Publication Date: October 1, 2003

Interpretive Summary: Monitoring in some fashion is required to evaluate progress towards meeting management objectives of any enterprise. For rangeland operations, including ranching, some planned approach to monitoring is essential to any attempt to practice adaptive resource management. One challenge facing rangeland resource managers is monitoring their rangelands in an objective, understandable and cost-effective manner. Monitoring can be done for short-term management decisions, such as stocking rate determinations, or long-term management, such as vegetation trend evaluations. Either type requires the use of indicators, a component of the system which reflects an important property of interest. Examples of indicators include forage height to reflect utilization by grazing livestock or plant cover amounts that reflect vegetation composition. Monitoring, either for short-term or long-term interests, requires selecting indicators to be evaluated that relate directly to management objectives of the enterprise. With specific managment objectives, an indicator-based monitoring program can be cost-effectively implemented for almost any resource management operation.

Technical Abstract: The intent of long-term monitoring is to document changes in important properties of biological communities. At the least, a long-term monitoring system should be designed to detect long-term trends in three key attributes: soil and site stability, hydrologic function, and the biotic integrity of the system. There are four basic guidelines for developing integrated soil-vegetation monitoring systems for rangelands. These are (1) identifying a suite of indicators which are consistently correlated with the functional status of one or more critical ecosystem processes and/or properties, (2) selecting base indicator on site-specific objectives and resource concerns and inherent soil and site characteristics, (3) using spatial variability in developing and interpreting indicators to make them more representative of ecological processes, and (4) interpreting indicators in the context of an understanding of dynamic, nonlinear ecological processes. To the extent possible, indicators should reflect early changes in ecological processes and indicate that a more significant change is likely to occur. In addition to these guidelines, measurements included in long-term monitoring systems should be rapidly applied, simple to understand, inexpensive to use, and quantitatively repeatable.

Last Modified: 4/22/2015