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Monitoring to assess conservation actions

The monitoring process consists of making reliable observations from nature to detect, measure, assess and draw conclusions as to how species and ecosystems are changing, either naturally or as a consequence of human intervention. Monitoring is undertaken at various scales: from the population level to the entire biosphere and at a global, regional, national or local level.

The aim of this module is to provide guidance on how to develop and implement an effective monitoring scheme for successful CWR in situ conservation.

CWR and monitoring: Identification and selection of measurable variables

Monitoring is defined by Elzinga et al. as ‘the collection and analysis of repeated observations or measurements to evaluate changes in condition and progress toward meeting a management objective’.1

For the effective conservation of CWR, a range of monitoring activities may need to be undertaken. These include, monitoring key characteristics of a species and its habitat to ensure that management interventions actions are meeting their objectives. You may wish to monitor:

Most schemes monitor both the distribution (range, area) and the species composition of the target habitats or ecosystems.

1 - Elzinga, A.L., Salzer, D.W. and Willoughby. J.W. (1998) Measuring and Monitoring Plant  Populations, Bureau of Land Management, Denver, CO, USA.

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Monitoring methods

Species and population monitoring
Species and population monitoring is the regular observation and recording of changes in status and trend of species or their populations in a certain territory. The primary purpose is to collect information to examine the outcomes of management actions and to guide management decisions. For CWR, you may need to monitor population numbers to assess its conservation status, as well as the impacts of any management interventions.

The most common form of population monitoring is demographic monitoring, which often is appropriate for CWR. It involves the assessment of population changes and their causes throughout the life cycle and measures attributes such as germination and mortality rates, growth, size, density and distribution. It can also help identify the factors determining the distribution and abundance of species.

Genetic monitoring
The monitoring of genetic diversity can be a very costly approach, especially if molecular methods are employed. While its widespread use is not possible or even recommended, some circumstances in which it is important to undertake genetic monitoring include5:

5 - Iriondo, J.M., Maxted, N. and Dulloo, M.E. (eds) (2008) Conserving Plant Diversity in Protected Areas, CAB International, Wallingford, UK.

Habitat/protected area monitoring
This can be defined as ‘the collection and analysis of repeated observations or measurements to evaluate changes in condition and progress toward meeting a management objective7. It involves making repeated recordings of the condition of the target habitats or ecosystems to measure changes from a predetermined standard, target state or previous status8. The features of a habitat that may be monitored include aspects of quantity, structure, function or dynamics9.

7 - Elzinga, C.L., Salzer, D.W., Willoughby, J.W. and Gibbs, D.P. (2001) Monitoring Plant and Animal Populations, Blackwell Scientific Publications, Abingdon, UK.
8 - Hellawell, J.M. (1991) ‘Development of a rationale for monitoring’, in Goldsmit, F.B. (ed) Monitoring for Conservation and Ecology, pp 1–14, Chapman and Hall, London, UK
9 - Tucker, G., Bubb, P., de Heer, M., Miles, L., Lawrence, A., Bajracharya, S.B., Nepal, R.C., Sherchan, R. and Chapagain, N.R. (2005) Guidelines for Biodiversity Assessment and Monitoring for Protected Areas, KMTNC, Kathmandu, Nepal.

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Developing a monitoring programme

The steps to developing a monitoring programme are summarized by Noon13:

13 - Noon, B.R. (2003) ‘Conceptual issues in monitoring ecological resources’, in Busch, D.E. and Trexler, J.C. (eds) Monitoring Ecosystems: Interdisciplinary Approaches for Evaluating Ecoregional Initiatives, pp 27-72, Island Press, Washington D.C.

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