What is monitoring?

Monitoring at Lorna Glen
Photo © Amy Mutton/ Parks and Wildlife

Monitoring is the systematic collection of data over time to test a hypothesis.

A hypothesis is a concept that that, if true, would explain certain facts or phenomena.

For biodiversity conservation, the monitoring project's hypothesis usually relates to what effect (if any) management strategies are having, or will have, on the condition of a natural area, a species or an ecological community.

Data from monitoring allows people to make informed decisions about management practices, and make changes to those practices if necessary.

Monitoring provides information which can:

  • analyse change over time, such as comparison with baseline or earlier data
  • monitor effects from a particular management action, or measure effects from a specific threat
  • learn about ecological patterns and processes
  • fill in gaps about biological knowledge
  • engage stakeholders on a local, state or national level, and help government and the public make informed decisions.

Monitoring can focus on:

  • collecting biological data about the species itself, such as wing measurements, size, number
  • the species response to a disturbance event such as a fire, change in groundwater levels, impact of grazing, or impact from pollution
  • the effect of a management action, such as the impact of weed control on the density of the target weed species, or the how well a species is doing after being moved (translocation) to a new environment.

Monitoring may be carried out both within and outside the department:

  • to assess progress on actions outlined in recovery plans or interim recovery plans
  • to meet national or international reporting requirements
  • as a condition of approval from an Animal Ethics Committee
  • as a condition of a development approval.

When undertaking monitoring, it is very important that standard techniques or procedures are used, repeated and documented (i.e. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Monitoring Protocols). The collection of monitoring data allows trends over time to be assessed and analysed. If the data are not collected using standard, repeatable measures, it is often not possible to compare them.

When designing a monitoring project, it is critical that the question proposed to be answered by monitoring is clearly defined. The monitoring procedures need to be tailored to the species, site or community of interest. All existing research and knowledge about the site or species should be taken into consideration.

Surveys and how they differ from monitoring

  • A survey is an exercise in which a set of observations are made about one or more components of an ecosystem.
  • Monitoring is a series of surveys, repeated over time, that are designed to test a specific hypothesis.

For example, a survey might involve counting the number of waterbirds present at a wetland at any one point in time. This is not monitoring, unless the count is repeated over time in order to test a theory about the effect of any management of the site on the bird population.

The department surveys the flora, fauna and ecological communities of Western Australia.