National Park Service

Inventory & Monitoring (I&M)

Glossary of Terms Used by the NPS Inventory & Monitoring Program

Adaptive Management A systematic process for continually improving management policies and practices by learning from the outcomes of operational programs. Its most effective form-"active" adaptive management-employs management programs that are designed to experimentally compare selected policies or practices, by implementing management actions explicitly designed to generate information useful for evaluating alternative hypotheses about the system being managed.
Area Frame A sampling frame that is designated by geographical boundaries within which the sampling unites are defined as subareas.
Attributes Any living or nonliving feature or process of the environment that can be measured or estimated and that provide insights into the state of the ecosystem. The term Indicator is reserved for a subset of attributes that is particularly information-rich in the sense that their values are somehow indicative of the quality, health, or integrity of the larger ecological system to which they belong (Noon 2003). See Indicator.
Biological Significance An important finding from a biological point of view that may or may not pass a test of statistical significance.
Co-location Sampling of the same physical units in multiple monitoring protocols.
Conceptual Models Purposeful representations of reality that provide a mental picture of how something works to communicate that explanation to others.
Driver The major external driving forces that have large-scale influences on natural systems. Drivers can be natural forces or anthropogenic.
Ecological Integrity A concept that expresses the degree to which the physical, chemical, and biological components (including composition, structure, and process) of an ecosystem and their relationships are present, functioning, and capable of self-renewal. Ecological integrity implies the presence of appropriate species, populations and communities and the occurrence of ecological processes at appropriate rates and scales as well as the environmental conditions that support these taxa and processes.
Ecosystem Defined as, "a spatially explicit unit of the Earth that includes all of the organisms, along with all components of the abiotic environment within its boundaries" (Likens 1992).
Ecosystem Drivers Major external driving forces such as climate, fire cycles, biological invasions, hydrologic cycles, and natural disturbance events (e.g., earthquakes, droughts, floods) that have large scale influences on natural systems.
Ecosystem Management The process of land-use decision making and land-management practice that takes into account the full suite of organisms and processes that characterize and comprise the ecosystem. It is based on the best understanding currently available as to how the ecosystem works. Ecosystem management includes a primary goal to sustain ecosystem structure and function, a recognition that ecosystems are spatially and temporally dynamic, and acceptance of the dictum that ecosystem function depends on ecosystem structure and diversity. The whole-system focus of ecosystem management implies coordinated land-use decisions.
Focal Resources Park resources that, by virtue of their special protection, public appeal, or other management significance, have paramount importance for monitoring regardless of current threats or whether they would be monitored as an indication of ecosystem integrity. Focal resources might include ecological processes such as deposition rates of nitrates and sulfates in certain parks, or they may be a species that is harvested, endemic, alien, or has protected status.
Indicators A subset of monitoring attributes that are particularly information-rich in the sense that their values are somehow indicative of the quality, health, or integrity of the larger ecological system to which they belong (Noon 2003). Indicators are a selected subset of the physical, chemical, and biological elements and processes of natural systems that are selected to represent the overall health or condition of the system.
Inventory An extensive point-in-time survey to determine the presence/absence, location or condition of a biotic or abiotic resource.
Measures Specific feature(s) used to quantify an indicator, as specified in a sampling protocol. For example, pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and specific conductivity are all measures of water chemistry.
Metadata Data about data. Metadata describes the content, quality, condition, and other characteristics of data. It's purpose it to help organize and maintain a organization's internal investment in spatial data, provide information about an organization's data holdings to data catalogues, clearinghouses, and brokerages, and provide information to process and interpret data received through a transfer from an external source.
Monitoring Collection and analysis of repeated observations or measurements to evaluate changes in condition and progress toward meeting a management objective (Elzinga et al. 1998). Detection of a change or trend may trigger a management action, or it may generate a new line of inquiry. Monitoring is often done by sampling the same sites over time, and these sites may be a subset of the sites sampled for the initial inventory.
Protocols As used by this program, are detailed study plans that explain how data are to be collected, managed, analyzed and reported and are a key component of quality assurance for natural resource monitoring programs (Oakley et al. 2003).
Stressors Physical, chemical, or biological perturbations to a system that are either (a) foreign to that system or (b) natural to the system but applied at an excessive [or deficient] level (Barrett et al. 1976:192). Stressors cause significant changes in the ecological components, patterns and processes in natural systems. Examples include water withdrawal, pesticide use, timber harvesting, traffic emissions, stream acidification, trampling, poaching, land-use change, and air pollution.
Trend As used by this program, refers to directional change measured in resources by monitoring their condition over time. Trends can be measured by examining individual change (change experienced by individual sample units) or by examining net change (change in mean response of all sample units).
Vital Signs Are a subset of physical, chemical, and biological elements and processes of park ecosystems that are selected to represent the overall health or condition of park resources, known or hypothesized effects of stressors, or elements that have important human values. The elements and processes that are monitored are a subset of the total suite of natural resources that park managers are directed to preserve "unimpaired for future generations," including water, air, geological resources, plants and animals, and the various ecological, biological, and physical processes that act on those resources. Vital signs may occur at any level of organization including landscape, community, population, or genetic level, and may be compositional (referring to the variety of elements in the system), structural (referring to the organization or pattern of the system), or functional (referring to ecological processes).

Literature Citations

  • Barrett, G. W., G. M. Van Dyne, and E. P. Odum. 1976. Stress ecology. BioScience 26:192-194.
  • Elzinga, Caryl L., D. W. Salzer, and J. W. Willoughby. 1998. Measuring and monitoring plant populations. BLM Tech. Reference 1730-1. BLM/RS/ST-98/005+1730.
  • Likens, G. 1992. An ecosystem approach: its use and abuse. Excellence in ecology, book 3. Ecology Institute, Oldendorf/Luhe, Germany.
  • Noon, B. R. 2003. Conceptual issues in monitoring ecological systems. Pages 27-71 in D.E. Busch and J. C. Trexler, eds. Monitoring ecosystems: Interdisciplinary approaches for evaluating ecoregional initiatives. Island Press, Washington, D.C.
  • Oakley, K. L., L. P. Thomas and S. G. Fancy. 2003. Guidlines for long-term monitoring protocols. Wildlife Society Bulletin 31: 1000-1002.

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