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.
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.
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.