Developing, implementing long-term vegetation monitoring programs

Kate Miller, plant ecologist for the Northeast Temperate Network and Ph.D. candidate in the School of Biology and Ecology, conducting fieldwork in Acadia. NPS photo courtesy of Kate Miller.

Developing, implementing long-term vegetation monitoring programs

As a plant ecologist for the National Park Service Inventory and Monitoring Program, I am in charge of long-term forest and freshwater wetland monitoring for parks in the Northeast Temperate Network (NETN).

The primary role of the I&M program is to conduct baseline inventories and long-term monitoring of important natural resources, and to use this information to help guide park management decisions.

We have been monitoring forests in 176 permanent plots in Acadia for 11 years. Results of our monitoring in Acadia indicate that forests are in relatively good condition, especially compared with forests in more southern parks which are more impacted by deer overabundance and invasive species. We are very concerned about the potential impacts of climate change on Acadia’s forests, and part of my Ph.D. research is assessing park vulnerabilities to climate change.

Recently, NETN joined a larger working group of I&M networks that are monitoring forests in 50 eastern national parks in over 2,000 plots. This is potentially the country’s largest collection of permanent monitoring plots that are located in protected forests, which offers exciting opportunities to observe long-term dynamics of forests that are protected from logging over a large geographic area. As eastern forests respond to climate change and other stressors, findings by this working group will both provide important information to park managers and provide valuable scientific insight into forest dynamics.

Freshwater wetland monitoring in Acadia started in 2011, and we partner with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Wetland Condition Assessment (NWCA) to conduct the bulk of our monitoring. The sentinel sites we monitor in Acadia follow NWCA protocols and are used by the EPA to characterize reference wetland conditions for the national assessment.

In return, the sentinel sites in Acadia are part of a national wetland dataset that allows us to compare status and trends in the condition of Acadia’s wetlands with a larger region.

Kate Miller is a plant ecologist for the Northeast Temperate Network, Ph.D. candidate in the University of Maine in the School of Biology and Ecology

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