Principles of Vegetation Measurement & Assessment
and Ecological Monitoring & Analysis

 

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Overview of Monitoring Protocols

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Readings & Instructions

  1. This lesson provides an overview of how individual attributes are combined into more comprehensive vegetation assessments.
  2. Read through the Text, visit suggested internet links, and work through the Summary Questions at the end of the text.
Monitoring Vegetation community Health

Putting it All Together

The one-attribute-at-a-time approach may be useful when trying to assess or monitor very specific vegetation conditions. For example, if one is setting up a protocol to monitor and determine if a specific targeted grazing practice is effective at reducing the abundance of yellow starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis) on a landscape, then a simple monitoring of starthistle density or frequency would be sufficient.

However, to get at more comprehensive and relevant questions related to land condition or health, it is necessary to combine individual attributes to assess emergent qualities of plant communities. Current attempts to find reasonable ways to assess "land health" have been fueled by dissatisfaction with long-standing procedures to describe and interpret condition and trend relative to some perceived "climax" community for a site or habitat type. New approaches have been proposed to accommodate modern ecological theory and the demands of multiple-use management.

The newest land assessment protocols focus on the status of a site or landscape relative to:

A One-Size-Fits-All Protocol?

Many scientists and managers have suggested that a single protocol is needed to assess land integrity and health. Is is believed that if we had a unified way to discuss, evaluate, and monitor lands we could make wise decisions about how to achieve management and sustainability goals. It is true that any choice of variables to monitor should be underlain by:

  • existing ecological theories such as succession and other aspects of vegetation dynamics
  • constraints of soil development and soil erosion
  • development and evolution of landscapes
  • relationships of biodiversity to production and stability

However, the need for information and assessment of vegetation communities and landscapes vary greatly depending on the goals and demands of land stewardship.

On the broadest scale, efforts like the Roundtable on Sustainable Forests and the Sustainable Rangeland Roundtable seek to measure course attributes of economic, ecological, and social benefits derived from forests and rangelands to assess if these lands will be "sustainable." In other words, are landscapes and regions in a condition that will be able to "provide a desired mix of benefits to the present generation without compromising their ability to provide benefits for future generations."

On finer scales, land managers need to make daily decisions about how lands will be managed to meet desired conservation and management goals. Goals for monitoring may be aimed at profit optimization, landscape maintenance, compliance with laws and policies (i.e., endangered species act, or required responses to restoration after fire), or maintaining options for the future (i.e., weed management or soil maintenance).

The Bottom Line -- the resources that can be potentially produced on a specific landscape are set by environmental and ecological constructs that direct and limit options for land management and maintenance. But, there are many different goals for land stewardship that can occur within these landscape limitations.  Therefore, there will never be a single, unified, protocol for assessing vegetation communities and landscapes.

Summary Questions

  1. Give an example (other than that given above) of when it may be sufficient to measure and monitor just one attribute of a plant community.

  2. Why might it be necessary to assess attributes like plant community health or sustainability?

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