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Developing Conceptual Ecosystem Models for Long-term Monitoring: An Example from the Prairie Cluster Prototype Program

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Developing Conceptual Ecosystem Models for Long-term Monitoring:

An Example from the

Prairie Cluster Prototype Program


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Retrospective or Effects --Oriented Monitoring Monitoring: seeks to find effects by detecting changes in status or condition of some organism, population, or community. It is retrospective in that it is based on detecting an effect after it has occurred. It does not assume any knowledge of cause-effect relationships. This includes most of the monitoring in national parks, such as measuring changes in foliage condition of trees, size or trends in animal populations, or diversity of aquatic macroinvertebrates in streams, and it takes advantage of the fact that biological indicators integrate conditions over time.

Predictive or Stressor -- Oriented Monitoring seeks to detect the known or suspected cause of an undesirable effect before the effect has had a chance to occur or become serious (e.g. stress levels along a geologic fault, presence of carcinogens in animal tissue, canary in a coal-mine). It is predictive in that the cause-effect relationship is known, so that if the cause can be detected early, the effect can be predicted before it occurs. (Predictive monitoring is not commonly used in national parks because our knowledge of ecosystem processes is still poor and cause-effect relationships have often not been established.)

National Research Council. 1995. Review of EPA’s

Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program.


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The NRC concluded that in cases where the cost of failing to detect an effect early is high, traditional retrospective monitoring was inappropriate (e.g. acid precipitation, exotic species effects, ozone depletion, and biological extinctions) because of the large time lag required for mitigation, and recommended that EPA investigate new indicators for monitoring these threats.

Effects-oriented monitoring does not require knowing a cause-effect relationship, but if stressors and effects are both included in the monitoring, then analyses may be directed at establishing cause-effect relationships.

Anticipatory Monitoringdoes not require monitoring ecological condition or

assessment of endpoints of interest. It attempts to detect effects as they are

occurring by measuring anticipatory indicators, rather than describing effects

after they have occurred. Its success depends on the validity of the assumed

cause-effect relations among the stressor(s), their ecological effects, and the selected indicators of stress. This approach carries the risk of failing to detect the ecological effects of significant but unanticipated stressors.

Noon et al. 1999


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  • Monitoring objectives may be met through one detect an effect early is high, traditional retrospective monitoring was inappropriate (e.g. acid precipitation, exotic species effects, ozone depletion, and biological extinctions) because of the large time lag required for mitigation, and recommended that EPA investigate new indicators for monitoring these threats.

  • or a combination of:

  • Effects-Oriented Monitoring

    • (detect change in resource status or condition)

  • Stressor- Oriented Monitoring

    • (cause-effect relationship known)

  • Anticipatory Monitoring

    • (hypothesized model of stressors, effects, and

    • ‘anticipatory indicators’)

  • Example Monitoring Objective: Are park populations of the federally endangered black-footed ferret stable?

  • Is black-footed ferret population size stable?

  • Is the incident rate of canine distemper on the rise?

  • Is the abundance of black-tailed prairie dogs changing?


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    Why Do We Need Conceptual Ecosystem Models? detect an effect early is high, traditional retrospective monitoring was inappropriate (e.g. acid precipitation, exotic species effects, ozone depletion, and biological extinctions) because of the large time lag required for mitigation, and recommended that EPA investigate new indicators for monitoring these threats.

    Short Answer:

    “You got to be very careful if you don’t know where

    you’re going, because you might not get there.”

    -- Yogi Berra


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    Why Do We Need Conceptual Ecosystem Models? detect an effect early is high, traditional retrospective monitoring was inappropriate (e.g. acid precipitation, exotic species effects, ozone depletion, and biological extinctions) because of the large time lag required for mitigation, and recommended that EPA investigate new indicators for monitoring these threats.

    Long Answer #1:

    Despite the complexity of ecosystems and the limited knowledge of their functions, to begin monitoring, we must first simplify our view of the system. The usual method has been to take a species-centric approach, focusing on a few high-profile species; that is those of economic, social, or legal interest. Because of the current wide (and justified) interest in all components of biological diversity, however, the species-centric approach is no longer sufficient. This wide interest creates a conundrum; we acknowledge the need to simplify our view of ecosystems to begin the process of monitoring, and at the same time we recognize that monitoring needs to be broadened beyond its usual focus to consider additional ecosystem components.

    Noon et al. 1999


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    Why Do We Need Conceptual Models? detect an effect early is high, traditional retrospective monitoring was inappropriate (e.g. acid precipitation, exotic species effects, ozone depletion, and biological extinctions) because of the large time lag required for mitigation, and recommended that EPA investigate new indicators for monitoring these threats.

    Long Answer #2:


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    • Conceptual models are useful throughout detect an effect early is high, traditional retrospective monitoring was inappropriate (e.g. acid precipitation, exotic species effects, ozone depletion, and biological extinctions) because of the large time lag required for mitigation, and recommended that EPA investigate new indicators for monitoring these threats.

    • the monitoring process:

    • formalize our current understanding of the context and scope of the natural processes and anthropogenic stressors affecting ecological integrity

    • help expand our consideration across traditional discipline boundaries

    • Most importantly, clear, simple models facilitate communication between:

    • scientists from different disciplines

    • researchers and managers

    • managers and the public


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    What conceptual models can’t do ……….. detect an effect early is high, traditional retrospective monitoring was inappropriate (e.g. acid precipitation, exotic species effects, ozone depletion, and biological extinctions) because of the large time lag required for mitigation, and recommended that EPA investigate new indicators for monitoring these threats.

    While conceptual models may help identify core structural components of the ecosystem, anticipatory indicators, or important environmental data,

    They don’t replace the need to identify the most significant,

    natural resources and prioritize among issues!


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    Establish detect an effect early is high, traditional retrospective monitoring was inappropriate (e.g. acid precipitation, exotic species effects, ozone depletion, and biological extinctions) because of the large time lag required for mitigation, and recommended that EPA investigate new indicators for monitoring these threats.

    sampling

    design

    Define

    response

    criteria

    Develop

    conceptual

    model

    Specify

    goals

    Identify

    Stressors

    Select

    Indicators

    Step 1: Develop Monitoring Objectives

    By first considering the most significant park natural resources

    and resource issues, we are better able to define monitoring

    objectives.


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    • Natural resources that NPS is mandated to monitor and protect

    • federally listed T&E species

    • other legislated mandates

    • Examples:

    • Are park populations of the federally endangered black-footed ferret stable?

    • Is the park maintaining high-quality black-footed ferret habitat?

    • Monitoring questions relating to natural resource threats

    • Examples:

    • Is the water quality of Cub Creek declining?

    • Is pollution altering the biotic integrity of the creek?

    • Are invasive exotic species displacing native plant species in prairies?

    • Is an increase in deer abundance affecting woodland species diversity?

    • Monitoring questions relating to natural resource management practices

    • Examples:

    • Is the prescribed fire regime maintaining healthy native prairie?

    • Are restoration practices achieving model community structure & composition?

    • Monitoring directed toward assessing long-term ecosystem health

    • Identify the most significant natural resources of your park

    • Example:

    • Does the prairie support a diverse assemblage of flora and fauna?


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    Heartland Network: Tallgrass Prairie Parks protect

    Most Significant Natural Resource Issues


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    Establish protect

    sampling

    design

    Define

    response

    criteria

    Develop

    conceptual

    model

    Specify

    goals

    Identify

    Stressors

    Select

    Indicators

    Identify Stressors and Develop Conceptual Models

    Aspects to Consider as Conceptual Models are Developed

    from Barber (1994)

    1. Identify the structural components of the resource, interactions between components, inputs and outputs to surrounding resources, and important factors and stressors that determine the resource’s ecological operation and sustainability.

    2. Consider the temporal and spatial dynamics of the resource at multiple scales because information from different scales can result in different conclusions about resource condition.

    3. Identify how major stressors of resource are expected to impact its structure and function




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    Physical impact Ecosystems

    Mycorrhizae

    Grazers

    Invertebrates

    Soil N

    storage

    Watershed and

    landscape

    patterns

    Grazer selectivity

    and grazing

    patterns

    Plant community

    structure

    Plant growth & demography

    Fire

    Direct Effects

    Insects

    Birds

    Local extirpation

    emigration and

    immigration

    Resource

    Availability

    Mammals

    Drought

    Standing dead

    & litter

    Conceptual Model of Core Abiotic and Biotic Relationships Within Terrestrial Prairie Ecosystems modified fromHartnett and Fay (1998)


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    Conceptual model of core abiotic and biotic relationships within terrestrial prairie ecosystems, including anthropogenic stressors (in red) affecting Prairie Cluster parks. Modified from Hartnett and Fay 1998

    Physical impact

    Exotic Plant

    Invasion

    Mycorrhizae

    Grazers,

    Cattle

    Invertebrates

    Watershed and

    landscape

    patterns

    Grazer selectivity

    and grazing

    patterns

    Plant community

    structure

    Plant growth & demography

    Prescribed

    Fire

    Direct Effects

    Insects

    Birds

    Local extirpation

    emigration and

    immigration

    Resource

    Availability

    Mammals

    Drought

    Cultural use

    Standing dead

    & litter

    Fragmentation


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    Monitoring Implications From Terrestrial Prairie Model within terrestrial prairie ecosystems, including anthropogenic stressors (


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    • Underscores need to integrate climate data with coredatasets and stream flow data with water quality monitoring

    • Emphasizes important role of prairie soils in maintaining both aquatic and terrestrial prairie ecosystems

    • Stresses climate variability as a defining, characteristic of prairie ecosystems and the resulting importance of adaptive responses of prairie biota to drought

    • Reminds us of the complex interaction of climate, fire and grazing that historically regulated prairie ecosystems

    • Clarifies the difficulty of detecting human-induced patterns of change against a background of high intrinsic variability

    • “The spatial and temporal variability (of prairies) is not simply a hindrance to sampling and estimation of plant population and community patterns but rather an important characteristic of these grasslands of direct ecological interest.”Hartnett and Fay 1998


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    Funding from Natural Resource Challenge for coredatasets and stream flow data with water quality monitoring

    Vital Signs Monitoring is not adequate to complete

    comprehensive monitoring

    Focus on most fundamental indicators

    of long-term ecological integrity and highest

    concerns among the parks in each network


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    One of the most difficult tasks is to prioritize monitoring objectives within the current means of the program but with vision to the future

    Two Approaches:

    1) Starting with a comprehensive consideration of all

    resources and issues -- following a process of elimination

    or

    2) Beginning with core resources and issues and defining

    a building process as funding and partners become

    available


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    Requires an Iterative Process objectives within the current means of the program but with vision to the future

    1) tentatively define most important monitoring objectives

    (resources and issues for monitoring)

    2) build conceptual models of resources, stressors and their linkages

    3) re-consider monitoring objectives within context of models

    (develop the specific questions that must be answered to

    adequately address each monitoring objective)

    4) revisit monitoring priorities


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    • Questions to Consider as Monitoring Objectives objectives within the current means of the program but with vision to the future

    • are Developed and Refined within Context of Conceptual Models

    • For this monitoring objective, am I primarily interested in biotic resource condition (effects monitoring), changes in stressor levels, or do I need both types of information?

    • Do I need to distinguish the effects of particular stressors, or I am more interested in the resource response to multiple stressors?

    • Do the conceptual models suggest anticipatory indicators that may help to predict effects before they occur?

    • Do the conceptual models help identify environmental information necessary to differentiate natural variability from stressor effects?

    • Do the conceptual models suggest fundamental structural aspects of the ecosystem that may be useful in meeting several monitoring objectives?


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    Prioritizing among Aquatic Resource Issues objectives within the current means of the program but with vision to the future


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    Monitoring Objective 1: objectives within the current means of the program but with vision to the futureHow is nutrient enrichment associated with cattle grazing affecting biotic water integrity?

    Monitor macroinvertebrate community as indicator of aquaticecosystem integrity (integrate pollution impacts over time)

    Monitoring Objective 2: Are Topeka shiner populations stable? How is the quantity & quality of Topeka shiner habitat changing through time?

    Monitor size and structure of extant populations

    Monitor quantity and quality of gravel-bottomed pools lacking predatory fish in 1st and 2nd order streams


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    Monitoring Objective 1: How is nutrient enrichment objectives within the current means of the program but with vision to the future

    associated with cattle grazing affecting water quality?

    7 years later …………….

    Macroinvertebrate Data Indicate Declining Water Quality!


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    Nutrient Loading objectives within the current means of the program but with vision to the future

    Sedimentation

    Geology

    Climate

    Grazers,

    Cattle

    Soils

    Runoff

    Groundwater

    Discharge

    Prairie

    vegetation

    Riparian corridor

    vegetation

    Sediment load

    Dissolved

    constituents

    Fire

    Substrate size

    DOM

    Periphyton,

    phyto-plankton

    Macroinvertebrates

    Fish


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    • Monitoring Objective 1: How is nutrient enrichment and sedimentation associated with cattle grazing affecting biotic water integrity?

    • 1) Monitor macroinvertebrate community as indicator of aquatic ecosystem integrity

    • 2) Sample intensively enough to detect biologically meaningful trends

    • 3) Compare to local weather record to assess natural variability

      • (precipitation, extreme droughts, floods)

      • 4) Monitor diurnal DO, nutrient levels, and periphyton to assess trends in nutrient enrichment

      • 5) Monitor substrate embeddedness, water clarity to assess sedimentation rates

    Monitoring Objective 2: Are Topeka shiner populations stable? How is the quantity & quality of Topeka shiner habitat changing through time?

    1) Monitor size and structure of extant populations (resulting fish survey will compliment 1st objective)

    2) Monitor quantity and quality of gravel-bottomed pools lacking predatory fish in 1st and 2nd order streams (1-5 from above are complimentary)


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