Landscape Feature Condition Monitoring
Compared to monitoring of individual species, monitoring condition of landscape features and associated natural communities provides a more comprehensive understanding of natural resource health and changes over time (MacNally et al. 2002). Assessments of landscape feature condition include quantifying the spatial extent (numbers or acreage) and configuration of representative occurrences, as well as measuring the ecological integrity of existing occurrences. Baseline data, including historic condition (potential condition), current condition, and natural range of variation, are needed to develop and evaluate conservation goals.
Periodic assessments of the spatial extent of all occurrences (e.g., acres of prairie), representative natural community occurrences and high quality occurrences (e.g., miles of high quality coldwater headwater stream reaches) of landscape features should be completed as an indicator of the condition of the landscape feature as a whole across the landscape. These measures can be performed more easily over a large area using data generated by remote sensing than with on-the-ground monitoring projects. Some species assemblages correlate well to these gross measures, but others may not be sufficiently assessed (MacNally et al. 2002). Currently, coarse spatial data are available for some landscape features (e.g., forest features), but are entirely lacking for others (e.g., savanna, prairie; Donovan et al. 2004).
Determining the ecological integrity of landscape features is generally more difficult than obtaining simple measures of spatial extent. However, the critical components determining condition can usually be reduced to a few key ecological indicators (Parrish et al. 2003). These indicators should reflect an ecosystem's ability to support community structure and functional attributes comparable to those of natural habitats within a region and within the historic natural range of variability (Karr and Dudley 1981, Parrish et al. 2003). Ecological indicators include direct measures of important functional components (e.g., number of vertical vegetation layers, bed and bank erosion) and community metrics (e.g., index of biotic integrity, floristic quality assessment), as well as species indicators. Because landscape features are coarse units, they may contain substantial diversity (e.g., many MNFI natural communities, multiple successional stages), and key ecological indicators may only apply to specific sites or structures within a landscape feature. Various classification systems may need to developed or improved to help determine which of the diverse components of landscape features are indicative of condition.
Landscape feature-specific indicators should be used to monitor changes in condition over time. Research to identify these metrics, as well as associated benchmarks to incrementally assess changes in condition or to trigger specific management actions, is a high priority to enable efficient and useful monitoring. Specific measures of condition have been identified for many landscape features in the Landscape Feature Summaries.
The following research, survey and monitoring efforts, drawn from the Landscape Features & Conservation Needs section, were each identified for multiple landscape features as necessary for assessing condition of those features and determining the most effective conservation actions to address significant threats.
- inventories and mapping to identify the number of occurrences and size of landscape features
- monitoring of changes in the number and size of occurrences of landscape features
- inventories and mapping to identify the extent and severity of threats within landscape features
- monitoring of changes in extent and severity of threats within landscape features
- inventories to identify species or community associations with landscape features
- monitoring of changes in the community composition of landscape features
- monitoring of changes in land-use
- development of hydrologic models
- monitoring of changes in hydrologic (e.g., groundwater, streamflow, dam operation) dynamics
- research to examine and evaluate responses to management techniques
- identification of historic condition of landscape features and communities (including natural ranges of variation)
The highest monitoring priorities include those landscape features that are associated with imperiled natural communities or wildlife species (globally or regionally rare), are at a high threat risk, or are used by a significant number of SGCN. Any area that is a high quality representative of any landscape feature (e.g., natural communities, designated natural rivers or natural areas) should also be considered a monitoring priority to determine whether its high quality status is being maintained. Measures of condition at restoration sites should also be priorities, to allow evaluation of restoration success and techniques. However, well-coordinated monitoring of conditions of any landscape feature will help to assess status, trends, and conservation efforts. Initial efforts for many landscape features need to include scientific assessments to collect baseline data on spatial extent and ecological integrity.