Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Summer Reading: Effective Ecological Monitoring

I saw Gene Likens at ESA in Portland. He mentioned a new book out that he had written with Dave Lindenmayer on ecological monitoring. That was Wednesday. Requested the book Saturday from our library. Got the book today--apparently had to be sent up from Wichita State (Why would Wichita State have it but not Kansas State?).

Read it tonight.

There was an ethos at Hubbard Brook that struck both Kendra and I as incredibly unique. It was a combination of a long-term perspective with a constant vigilance over data sets. At the annual investigators meeting, we remember a number of talks that did little more than added a single data point.  One data point. Whatever the value was from last year. Fern nutrient concentrations. Streamwater nitrate. Bird abundance. Salamander counts. Analyzing and reporting data every year seemed like the highest expression of dedication to long-term research.

It made sense. Analyzing long-term data would require annual vigilance. Data should probably be checked each year. Errors can be caught. Responses to unique events can be seen. Explanations and hypotheses can develop over time.

That unique window into some of what Gene Likens had brought to the science of long-term monitoring is distilled in a new book. It distills the two authors approaches and thoughts about long-term monitoring. It reads like a 50-year summary of intellectual battles in some ways. Why every LTER was not issued 5 copies of this book, I don't know.

Some highlights:

Chapter 4: The problematic, the effective, and the ugly -- some case studies. One whole section is devoted to NEON and TERN. Box 4.1 is entitled "Trepidation". "Writing this chapter was never-racking and certainly far from 'career-enhancing' as we have been critical of a major province level program...and a number of national-level programs...We had concerns for several reasons...

Chapter 2: Why monitoring fails. Excessive bureaucracy. "Another less obvious, but no less real impediment to long-term monitoring is what might be called the loss of the cultural infrastructure. A field site that might appear to administrators or bureaucrats to have 'spartan' or even unsave living quarters and/or laboratory facilities, in fact may be the 'heart' of innovative and productive science for the project, allowing scientists to work and live together while doing research, adjacent to the research site. This certainly was the case in the early days of the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study..."

Chapter 3: What makes effective long-term monitoring. Frequent use of data. "Another key ingredient for maintaining long records of high quality is the frequent examination and use of these data. Such examinations result in important discoveries and stimulate new research and management questions."

Books like this are rare. We don't tell stories. We don't distill experiences down to wisdom.

This one does.

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