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Monitoring biological diversity: strategies, tools, limitations, and challenges

January 4, 2016

Monitoring is an assessment of the spatial and temporal variability in one or more ecosystem properties, and is an essential component of adaptive management. Monitoring can help determine whether mandated environmental standards are being met and can provide an early-warning system of ecological change. Development of a strategy for monitoring biological diversity will likely be most successful when based upon clearly articulated goals and objectives and may be enhanced by including several key steps in the process. Ideally, monitoring of biological diversity will measure not only composition, but also structure and function at the spatial and temporal scales of interest. Although biodiversity monitoring has several key limitations as well as numerous theoretical and practical challenges, many tools and strategies are available to address or overcome such challenges; I summarize several of these. Due to the diversity of spatio-temporal scales and comprehensiveness encompassed by existing definitions of biological diversity, an effective monitoring design will reflect the desired sampling domain of interest and its key stressors, available funding, legal requirements, and organizational goals.