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Copyright © 2003 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance.

The following is the established format for referencing this article:
Kaplan, I. C. 2003. Busch, D. E., and J. C. Trexler, editors. 2002. Monitoring ecosystems: interdisciplinary approaches for evaluating ecoregional initiatives. Island Press, Washington, D. C., USA. Conservation Ecology 7(2): 1. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss2/art1/

Book Review

Busch, D. E., and J. C. Trexler, editors. 2002. Monitoring Ecosystems: Interdisciplinary Approaches for Evaluating Ecoregional Initiatives. Island Press, Washington, D. C., USA.

Isaac C. Kaplan

Center for Limnology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Published: July 16, 2003

Managing and monitoring regional ecosystems is a daunting task. Most ecologists are more familiar with science at the scale of a study plot than with thinking about entire ecoregions that may span hundreds of kilometers and involve dozens of species of concern. Recently, regional efforts in the Florida Everglades, the Pacific Northwest forests, and the Colorado River have started to address the need for integrated ecosystem management. Spurred in part by laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act (1969) and the Endangered Species Act (1973), state and federal management agencies and academics in the U. S. have come together to devise regional ecosystem plans. In Monitoring Ecosystems, many of the leaders in these efforts report on how and why they have devised these regional ecosystem plans, and how they have implemented monitoring schemes to evaluate their effectiveness.

Monitoring Ecosystems will be of interest to agency scientists and others involved in regional management projects. For ecologists involved in regional efforts, it provides expert advice about the regulatory framework within which these ecosystem management projects must operate, recommendations on the conceptual framework needed to unify the many agencies and individuals involved, and practical advice on setting up monitoring systems using a variety of different data types.

Readers of Conservation Ecology who are less entrenched in regional management initiatives may find the book lacking in several ways. There is surprisingly little effort in most of the case studies (the later chapters) to tie ecosystem monitoring to the day-to-day practice of adaptive management. This is despite the fact that managers in the Everglades and the Colorado River have used adaptive management extensively, and three conceptual chapters early in the book discuss the overall importance of an adaptive management framework. Except for one chapter by DeAngelis et al., the book does not discuss ecosystem models in detail, even though they can be essential to integrating and interpreting monitoring data into an understanding of ecosystem health or function. Again, this omission is surprising because, at least in the case of the Colorado River, comprehensive ecosystem models have been created by active members of the management team (Walters et al. 2000). The utility of these models in integrating monitoring data and informing management decisions could have been an interesting topic for this volume. Finally, the book perhaps gives less insight than might be expected into the technically challenging task of how to incorporate many uncertain and highly variable indices of abundance or ecosystem function into an overall measure of the success or failure of ecosystem management.

The book is divided into three sections. Chapters in the first section discuss the conceptual and administrative background behind ecoregional initiatives. These chapters will be of interest primarily to senior managers and agency scientists involved in these efforts. Authors discuss overall principles for ecoregional management, and explain how monitoring fits into this scheme. Highlights include Paul Ringold’s chapter, which emphasizes the importance of the learning process in “incremental monitoring,” and Barry Noon’s distinction between indicators that provide predictive power vs. those that are better indicators of ecological responses.

The second section of the book is about information management and ecosystem modeling. This includes a description by DeAngelis et al. of individually based models that have been successfuly coupled with spatially explicit GIS information to become an effective tool to test hypotheses about indices and monitoring. There is also an intriguing chapter in this section by John Sauer, William Link, and James Nichols, which discusses methods to analyze the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and other similar volunteer-collected birding surveys for regional assessments. The analytical methods that they present would be useful to any statistician or modeler faced with highly variable, long-term data that may be of varying quality; in other words, anyone lucky enough to get their hands on long time series data collected at a regional scale.

The final section of the book finally delves deeply into the case studies in Florida and the Pacific Northwest. The issues may be of broad interest to many ecologists interested in ecosystem management. Peter Frederick and John Ogden present a discussion of why wading birds have served as excellent indicators in the Everglades. Their advice is unabashedly practical, mentioning that broad public appeal and high visibility (bright white plumage) should be taken into account as much as statistical and ecological considerations. Also in this third section, James Fourqurean and Leanne Rutten give a very clear description of monitoring Florida sea grass beds. Aided by a straightforward conceptual model, they explain some of the key monitoring decisions that they have made regarding allocation of spatial sampling effort.

Overall, the book is a useful attempt to come to some conclusions about how to monitor ecoregions. The apparent disconnect between some of the case studies and the tools of adaptive management and ecosystem modeling may simply reflect the novelty and challenge of ecoregional management.


Busch, D. E., and J. C. Trexler, editors. 2002. Monitoring ecosystems: interdisciplinary approaches for evaluating ecoregional initiatives. Island Press, Washington, D. C., USA. 384 p., hardcover, U.S. $70.00, ISBN 111559638508; paperback, U.S. $35.00, ISBN 1559638516.


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Endangered Species Act. 1973. C16 U.S.C. § 1531–1544, 87 Stat. 884.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 1969. 42 U.S.C. § 4321–4347.

Walters, C., J. Korman, L. E. Stevens, and B. Gold. 2000. Ecosystem modeling for evaluation of adaptive management policies in the Grand Canyon. Conservation Ecology 4(2): 1. [Online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol4/iss2/art1

Address of Correspondent:
Isaac C. Kaplan
Center for Limnology, University of Wisconsin-Madison. 680 N.
Park St. Madison, WI, USA, 53706
Phone: (608) 263-2465
Fax: (608) 265-2340

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