2
SCIENCE IN THE SERVICE OF BIOLOGICAL SURVEY

It follows from the considerations in Chapter 1 that a continuing assessment of the biological resources (species, communities, and ecosystems) of the United States will ultimately benefit the nation in many ways. The body of information that will be developed by the National Partnership for Biological Survey will help the country to meet many objectives and address such issues as the preservation of biota, the maintenance of ecosystems, and the sustainable use of biological resources.

One of the most important uses of the scientific information gathered by the National Partnership will be to assist decision-makers in addressing existing biological resource issues and anticipating future ones. The research activities discussed in this chapter are essential for gathering scientifically reliable information to support the decision-making process. Decisions based on inadequate, unreliable, or incorrect information can be unwise and costly. The chapter first reviews general criteria for setting priorities and then discusses strategies for conducting research on the species of plants, animals, fungi, and microorganisms of the



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation 2 SCIENCE IN THE SERVICE OF BIOLOGICAL SURVEY It follows from the considerations in Chapter 1 that a continuing assessment of the biological resources (species, communities, and ecosystems) of the United States will ultimately benefit the nation in many ways. The body of information that will be developed by the National Partnership for Biological Survey will help the country to meet many objectives and address such issues as the preservation of biota, the maintenance of ecosystems, and the sustainable use of biological resources. One of the most important uses of the scientific information gathered by the National Partnership will be to assist decision-makers in addressing existing biological resource issues and anticipating future ones. The research activities discussed in this chapter are essential for gathering scientifically reliable information to support the decision-making process. Decisions based on inadequate, unreliable, or incorrect information can be unwise and costly. The chapter first reviews general criteria for setting priorities and then discusses strategies for conducting research on the species of plants, animals, fungi, and microorganisms of the

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation United States; the communities and ecosystems in which they occur; and the trends that affect the distribution and abundance of populations of individual species and of communities and ecosystems. As in all work of the National Partnership, success will require the extensive cooperation of scientists of many disciplines and from many institutions. Later chapters address the information needs of users and mechanisms to coordinate and manage the work of the Partnership. Three themes will be emphasized here and in later chapters. First, priorities must be set for much research on biological resources in a new way that is more directly responsive to our nation's needs for better conservation, management, and sustainable use of those resources. Second, inventory, monitoring, and other research activities must expand beyond traditional, disciplinary lines to encompass well-designed, large-scale, interdisciplinary research initiatives on selected taxa, ecosystems, and geographic regions. Third, new interdisciplinary research initiatives must be explicitly designed to investigate functional relationships across different levels of biological organization, different spatial scales, and different temporal scales; the research needs to range from microsites to ecoregions, from individuals to higher taxonomic groups united by a common history, and from days and weeks to geological epochs. These initiatives will need to involve geological, hydrological, atmospheric, social, and other sciences as well as various areas of biology. The need for interdisciplinary environmental research has also been recognized by other NRC committees (NRC, 1990, 1993b). SETTING PRIORITIES There will always be more scientific questions to be addressed and more environmental concerns to be met than available human and financial resources can support. Therefore, priorities must be set.

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation No single criterion can be used to establish these priorities. Many scientific needs exist within the National Partnership and among its clients, and the information produced and managed by the NPBS will have many uses. But one of the strengths of the Partnership is that multiple criteria for setting priorities can be brought together. Potential priorities can be comprehensively evaluated, and individual agencies and organizations can take specific responsibility for addressing them. Priorities for the National Partnership should be based on the degree to which proposed research advances one or more of the following goals: Understanding the status and trends of biological resources that are changing rapidly, are rare, or are threatened by such factors as metropolitan growth, renewable land use, nonrenewable-resource extraction, and natural changes in the environment. Learning about biological resources that are identified as important by legal mandates or for economic reasons, such as their status as possible sources of new products. Performing research that will guide the remediation and restoration of damaged or degraded ecological systems. Evaluating biological resources (species, groups of evolutionarily related species, communities, ecological systems, and landscapes) that are clearly important for science and society but for which relatively little information exists. Doing studies that might lead to the maintenance or enhancement of biological diversity and to the long-term sustainability and functional integrity of ecological systems. Understanding ecological processes that provide services, such as control of nutrient and soil loss, assimilation and degradation of pollutants, and maintenance of biological diversity. Converting small investments of human and financial resources to relatively large returns in understanding of the status and trends of biological resources.

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation Several general considerations are important in developing priorities. An examination of existing records concerning the past geographic occurrence and condition of species and ecological systems provides a context in which to measure their current status and trends. The same is true for the examination of past management experiences or studies, especially if the information has been gathered in a standard way and is documented (NRC, 1986). For example, the projects for which environmental impact statements are written are potentially valuable experiments, but they are usually treated as one-time sets of observations, rather than as predictions of the consequences of planned manipulations. As a result, there is usually no monitoring to determine the effects of the projects. Such information would be of special importance in remediation and restoration, and those projects are often the only way to generate such information. Finally, priorities should be chosen to enable the National Partnership to carry out its work efficiently and cost-effectively. The committee believes that the scientific activities and programs of the NBS should focus both on its responsibilities as the main biological research agency within the Department of the Interior and on its proposed role as the lead agency for the National Partnership. The large amounts of land managed by DOI (Fig. 1.1), along with the department's other responsibilities with regard to the nation's biota, make NBS especially important in providing key elements of a program to assess the status and trends of biological resources. The committee therefore recommends the following: Recommendation 2-1: NBS should perform research needed for the management of lands within the jurisdiction of DOI and species for which it has responsibility. It should also ensure, both through its own scientific activities and its proposed role of national leadership, that needed research is performed to fulfill the central purpose envisioned for the National Partnership—to generate the information required to

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation understand the current status of the nation's biological resources, how that status is changing, and the causes of the changes. Given the wide range of national needs identified in Chapter 1, the broad distribution of relevant research efforts in federal and nonfederal organizations, the wide range of management needs within the Department of the Interior, and the short time available to examine these programs and needs in preparation for this report, the committee believed that it would be most helpful by focusing its attention on research needs at the level of the National Partnership rather than concentrating on specific recommendations for NBS research activities. For this reason, most of the recommendations in this chapter apply to the Partnership as a whole and not specifically to the NBS or other participants. However, the committee recognizes that many factors will influence the formal creation of the proposed National Partnership and believes that DOI should work to ensure that needed research is done by NBS or other entities no matter what specific form the Partnership eventually takes. The recommendations below provide a general framework to help members of the National Partnership to develop their research programs, but more detailed examination, based on this framework, of research needs and priorities of key participants, including the NBS, could be usefully performed by an independent group of experts. SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH ON THE STATUS OF BIOLOGICAL RESOURCES If the National Partnership for Biological Survey is to realize its purpose, it must greatly strengthen our understanding of the distributions and the factors that govern the distributions of species and higher taxa, communities, ecosystems, landscapes, and marine realms of the United States. To achieve that goal, the

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation work of the Partnership should meet the following objectives in assessing the status of the nation's biological resources: To determine the identities and distributions of species that live in the United States. Discovering, describing, and classifying these species will make possible the accurate and efficient identifications needed for many purposes by decision-makers, scientists, and other users. Species need to be understood in the context of their groups, and that understanding necessitates broad, comparative studies of the species in these groups and access to large, representative collections. For species whose geographic ranges extend beyond the United States, information is needed about their distributions in other countries. To use knowledge of relationships among species to produce predictive classifications. A classification that accurately reflects the relationships among species should improve our ability to predict which species are likely to have particular properties, even if they have not yet been studied in detail (Wheeler, 1990). To determine the physical and biological factors that govern the distributions of species. Management and conservation decisions affecting particular species are problematic in the absence of information about such basic aspects of their biology. To understand the population biology of species selected for intensive study, management, or conservation. Detailed understanding of the biology of populations will permit predictions about the consequences of decisions that lead to expansion or contraction of the geographic ranges of species. To determine the types and locations of communities and ecosystems in the United States. Management strategies that deal explicitly with ecological units require accurate distributional information for these units. To determine the factors that govern the distributions of communities and ecosystems. Unless the factors that shape and limit the distribution of individual communities are known, decisions intended to manage them sustainably might prove ineffectual.

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation To understand the effects of human settlement patterns (metropolitan growth, renewable land use, and nonrenewable-resource use) on species, communities, and ecosystems. Much of the current decrease in biological diversity in the United States is concentrated at the rapidly expanding urban-rural interface. Research is needed on the effects of suburbanization on biological resources, and on ways of reducing or mitigating these effects, and on the levels at which settlement can coexist with viable ecosystems. What Species Occur in the United States? Where Do They Occur? How are They Related? We need to know what species live in the United States, where they live, and how they are related to one another in an evolutionary sense. Modern classifications reflect patterns of common ancestry and can be helpful in predicting the occurrence of properties of poorly known organisms. Although no substitute for research on individual species, they are thus vital tools in the search for and management of biological resources and provide a frame of reference for biological research. For example, botanists can use classifications to decide where to search for chemicals of potential value to industry and medicine, and entomologists can use them to predict which parasites hold promise for the control of agricultural pests. The United States has unparalleled taxonomic research capabilities in its public and private museums, botanical gardens, universities, and government agencies. In general, taxonomic research has not been focused specifically on the goals that the NPBS will fulfill, but the Flora of North America, Moths of North America, Birds of North America, similar current projects, and state biological surveys are important examples of the kind of taxonomic research that the National Partnership should perform. Australia (see Box 2.1) and Costa Rica have established national organi

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation Box 2.1: Environmental Resources Information Network: Australia's Response to the Need for Access to National Biological Survey Data Australia has pioneered a two-pronged approach to surveying and monitoring its flora and fauna. Within the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Biodiversity Directorate administers the Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS), the purpose of which is to collect and document information on the biota of Australia. The Environmental Resources Information Network (ERIN) Directorate is responsible for developing an information-management system and for assembling data on the flora and fauna and analyzing them for management purposes. ABRS maintains editorial centers for its flora and fauna series and provides grants to taxonomic specialists to undertake the research necessary to classify and describe the plants, animals, and microorganisms of Australia. The grants address the highest-priority needs and are in the form of binding contractual agreements that specify products and a delivery schedule. This scheme ensures that careful scientific work will be done in a timely manner and that scientific attention is focused where it is most needed. ERIN's mission is to provide geographically related environmental information of an extent, quality, and availability required for planning and decision-making. ERIN contracts with taxonomic specialists and uses data from the flora and fauna series to create its backbone of taxonomic information. It contracts with institutions that maintain biological collections to computerize data on the identities and places of collection of those specimens. This information is brought together with information on physical properties of the continent—climate, topography, soils, etc.—and with information on vegetation, ownership, and conservation status through geographic information systems (GISs). ERIN has developed computer programs that can predict how a species' distribution might change if average temperature increases or decreases; its programs can show correlations among species distributions; and its system can model expected impact on a species' distribution and population viability if part of its habitat is lost, for instance, through development. Individual institutions and specialist groups take responsibility, as custodians, for the quality and reliability of data made available to ERIN. Data standards have been established cooperatively between ERIN and the custodians to facilitate data transfer and sharing.

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation ERIN has several large-scale data-analysis projects. One is the Landcover Project, which aims to collate data on the distribution of species that make up the dominant groups of plants in the Australian landscape. Another project is the Murray-Darling Basin Project, which is reviewing the availability of environmental data for the area, defining the major ecosystems of the basin and assessing the relationship between the ecosystems and conservation reserves, and developing a strategic plan for the conservation of the ecosystems. A third project is the National Marine Information System, a comprehensive computerized marine-science information base that will include significant data on all aspects of Australian marine environments, including fisheries, mineral resources, ocean currents and climate, and the distribution of marine life around the Australian coastline. By bringing together the expert knowledge of its biologists, the information held in its rich museum collections, and the innovative and focused use of data-management, analytical, and mapping computer programs, the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service has assembled a powerful and far-reaching tool for understanding and managing its natural resources. zations to study and document biodiversity. Their experiences suggest that even small investments in taxonomic research can yield results of importance to decision-makers. Recommendation 2-2: The National Partnership should determine what specimens and data representing the U.S. biota exist in the nation's institutional collections, both public and private. Specimen collections are useful for many purposes (see Box 2.2). The large holdings in the United States should be studied and assessed, and the resulting information should be synthesized and made available. By taking stock of the information already available, scientists will be able to find the gaps in our knowledge and take steps to fill them. Some groups of organisms are poorly represented in collections and poorly understood. Examples

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation Box 2.2: Collections Within public and private institutional collections in the United States are millions of specimens that document two centuries of exploration of our country and contain a rich trove of information about our flora and fauna. Such specimens are usually parts of organisms (a branch of a tree, a blood sample from a bird), entire animals or plants, or a number of individuals from a population. They are accompanied by information about where and when they were collected, what the place was like, and what other organisms were present. The specimens and their associated data give insight into the ideas of the researchers who have studied them. Collections of specimens are a critical component of the NPBS. In all but a few well-known taxa, identifications of species must be based on voucher specimens, without which frequent misidentifications are certain to be made. Faulty management decisions are likely to result from incorrect identifications. Collections are the repository for most of what we know about species diversity and are constantly pressed into use for new and often unexpected purposes. The tissues and organs of collected organisms may contain valuable information about the environment at the times they were collected. For example: Specimens collected 100 years ago can give an indication of what kinds of plants and animals lived at the place of collection then, what the soil, water, or climate was like, etc. By comparing historical and current collections, it is possible to monitor change in conditions. For instance, the decline in fresh-water mollusks in Pennsylvania was demonstrable only because of the existence of specimens collected over many decades from diverse sites. Knowledge of the concentrations of mercury occurring naturally in fish ruled out pollution as the source of the mercury, because the specimens were collected before pollution began. Many specimens have been studied by specialists over the years and provide documentation for their own research. As researchers try to identify newly collected samples, they can use these vouchers to determine how well new samples fit within the range of variation for a given species as it was understood by earlier specialists. Vouchers are kept for samples used in chemical, ecological, or other kinds of studies so that later researchers can confirm the identity of the samples used.

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation Specimens for a given species, genus, or family that have been collected from throughout the geographical area where the group occurs make it possible to compare variation in characteristics of that group from place to place or over time. Plant breeders can search for specimens of a given species with some desired characteristic, such as larger tubers or earlier flowering times, and learn where plants with that characteristic grow and under what conditions. Samples of organisms are preserved so as to retain the most information possible. Often, they are simply air-dried; sometimes, they are liquid-preserved or frozen. It is possible to analyze the chemical contents of the specimens; with new techniques, the DNA of century-old and irreplaceable specimens can be probed. Changes in the chemical components of habitats can sometimes be monitored, as well. For instance, collections of egg shells of birds were useful in learning about the effects of DDT. Natural history collections contain information that is invaluable to our understanding of biodiversity, its history, its current status, and its future. They are an essential resource for the study and management of the biodiversity of our nation. include mites, nematodes, many groups of fungi, and marine invertebrates. For bacteria, DNA or RNA probes might reveal the extent of diversity, but these organisms are poorly known. Collections of bacteria in culture are indispensable for the further understanding of the group. Even for such well-known groups as plants and vertebrates, there are geographic gaps in our knowledge, and the available records might not have been gathered recently enough to indicate the present status of individual species. Precise knowledge of what materials and data already exist will facilitate the timely provision of information to those who need it and will help scientists to identify gaps that warrant research. Tens of millions of specimens and facts have been accumulated through more than two centuries of exploration of the biological

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation Box 2.3: South Florida and the Everglades The South Florida landscape is dominated by a series of closely linked wetlands and aquatic ecosystems that extend from the Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee in the North through the Everglades and Florida Bay to the Florida Keys in the South. The Everglades is the largest wetland ecosystem in the contiguous 48 states and has been the subject of intense controversy about the ecological effects of drastically reduced and altered patterns of water drainage and increased nutrient inputs from North to South due to flood control, agriculture, and human settlement. Attempts to assess status and trends of terrestrial and marine biota in South Florida have been hampered by ignorance of the biology of many species, especially invertebrates and lower plants, which have been ignored except by a few systematists. For example, the endangered Florida Snail Kite is almost exclusively dependent for its food on one species of fresh-water mollusk, the apple snail. A real-estate developer would never plan a human community without serious consideration of the location of supermarkets. Yet, agencies have been forced to make major decisions about habitat protection for the Snail Kite with very little knowledge about its sole source of food (National Audubon Society, 1992). Failure to monitor components of adjacent ecosystems (e.g., wading birds in the Everglades, phytoplankton in Florida Bay, and reef corals in the Keys) has delayed understanding of their close interdependence. This failure has greatly increased the probable costs for environmental restoration over what would have been required if the necessary scientific assessments had been made sooner. There is also no well-established regional infrastructure to bring together status and trends data on organisms and conditions in disparate environments. Moreover, much existing information is effectively unavailable for lack of local resources and personnel to access and interpret crucial remote sensing data, as for algal abundance and productivity in Florida Bay. The management authority for different biota, habitats, and water resources is fragmented—scattered among federal, state, and county agencies that work under different and sometimes conflicting missions and mandates. For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District share responsibilities for

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation water-resource management. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Florida Bay and Biscayne Bay State Parks, the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection all have jurisdiction over various marine and terrestrial protected areas and wildlife in the region. Counties and state agencies share jurisdiction over land-use planning, zoning, development, and resource use. Much ecologically important land is owned privately. While some is managed for conservation, most is used for agriculture or human settlement. South Florida is by no means unique in this fragmentation of authority, which interferes with the abilities of agencies and the private sector to address a common set of environmental problems and needs. Closer coordination is clearly needed. Important local initiatives have begun. Secretary Babbitt recently announced an agreement among major parties to reduce harmful nutrients and improve water flow to the Everglades. This initiative and subsequent actions would be greatly assisted by the proposed National Partnership for Biological Survey. For example, cooperative studies involving the National Biological Survey, the Corps of Engineers, the South Florida Water Management District, and universities could use existing water-control structures to determine how Everglades ecological communities respond to different water-supply regimes. Such knowledge is essential for effective restoration and sustainable use of this great wetland. they occur. The causes of the decline are not fully known, but both air pollution and acid rain are suspected contributors. Determining the causes is made more difficult by the decrease in the number of taxonomists and ecologists studying fungi and by lack of sufficient attention paid in the past to the distributions of fungi. The trends portion of a status and trends program should have the following objectives:

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation To identify trends in a timely manner so that corrective actions can be taken while multiple options are available. Typically, the later a corrective action is taken, the fewer and more expensive are the ones that remain. Generally, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of environmental restoration. To learn how local actions, both individually and collectively, influence processes and products elsewhere. Spatial interconnectedness is important. As projects study selected ecosystems in detail, potential impacts of ecosystems and their components on one another should also be monitored. To reduce uncertainty about risks so that expensive remedial actions are not undertaken unnecessarily. Faced with great uncertainty about risks, decision-makers are likely to take action to avoid any risk because they cannot afford to remain passive when the possibility of great risk cannot be ruled out. The more accurate the available information, the more appropriate and cost-effective the steps taken will be. To evaluate the effectiveness of management decisions. One of the requisites of adaptive management is that options that are chosen should be evaluated by monitoring the changes in the managed resource, and the management plan then revised accordingly. To direct attention to areas where problems are most likely to develop in the near future. Among such areas are urban expansion zones, estuaries, rivers, and zones of intensive resource management and extraction. Data Useful for Determining Trends and Their Causes Trends in the status of biological resources cannot be identified or understood unless a solid database on the identification and distribution of the resources is available. Collections and related literature are a primary source of information on the past status of

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation species and ecosystems. The information they contain needs to be computerized and made efficiently and rapidly available. Sampling procedures need to be set up to ensure that records of selected taxa and ecosystems are kept up to date. Historical information on several time scales is needed: Within recorded history. Data on the distributions and status of natural resources within historical time are provided by specimens in museums and herbaria, photographs, written records, archival aircraft and satellite imagery, and oral histories. Such information is especially valuable because it is potentially more complete than information from the more distant past, because the causes of changes are likely to be human actions similar to those operating today, and because it can help predict what resource status is potentially achievable if the adverse effects of human actions are sufficiently reduced in the future. Within postglacial times. Paleoclimatologists and paleoecologists are able to reconstruct climates during the last glacial period and the period during which the glaciers retreated to approximately their current positions. They can also reconstruct shifts in the distributions of organisms and ecological communities that accompanied climatic changes. Those long-term records reveal that the ranges of species shifted at varying rates and that species assemblages differed strikingly from any found today. If climate change occurs, whether naturally or as a result of human activity, information about ecological responses to past change will be useful for managing ecological communities in the face of future shifts. Over geological times spans. Although data on long-term, evolutionary changes in the earth's biota are inevitably less complete than data from the more recent past, they provide valuable insights into the evolution of the groups of species found today, how they achieved their current distributions, and what happened when organisms from different geographic regions interacted with one another for the first time. For example, when

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation North America and South America were joined by the formation of the Panamanian land bridge about 3 million years ago, many species of mammals crossed that bridge in both directions. At first, there was in increase in the number of mammalian species in South America, but over time many groups of South American mammals became extinct, probably as a result of competition with and predation by North American mammals (Marshall, 1985). Given that human activities are resulting in massive exchanges of species between continents, extinctions and ecological adjustments of biotas will continue to increase in intensity in the future. For example, invasion of alien species is the major cause of extinctions in the Hawaiian Islands today (see Box 2.4) and has had substantial effects on many mainland ecosystems (Mooney and Drake, 1986). Detecting invasions of exotic species and minimizing the impacts of their colonization of the United States is an important use that decision-makers will make of information from the National Partnership. Data on Current Trends Because the dominant organisms in many ecological systems, such as trees and corals, are long-lived, many important changes in ecological communities and ecosystems are too slow for us to sense directly (Jackson, 1992). Our abilities to interpret slowly operating cause-effect relationships are even poorer. Therefore, processes acting over decades are hidden and reside in what has been called the invisible present (Magnuson, 1989). In the invisible present, change can be occurring but undetected because of confounding factors. Only long-term sustained monitoring and research can reveal these slow but important changes. Recommendation 2-11: The National Partnership should identify and monitor the status and trends of organisms sensitive to climatic and pollution factors, such as amphibians,

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation mollusks, songbirds, reef corals and other marine invertebrates, and fungi. Changes in distributions and abundance of species are important indicators of impending problems. They can direct attention to areas where improved understanding of the causes of changes will be especially useful to decision-makers. Species whose ranges and abundance are increasing provide signals as valuable as those from species whose distributions and abundance are decreasing. Studies at the margins of ranges of species are particularly important for understanding the patterns of adaptation of those species to extreme conditions and their likely response to change. Recommendation 2-12: The NPBS should perform research to identify the most useful biological indicators of ecological trends. Because the goods and services that the nation receives from ecological communities depend, in part, on their functional integrity, indicators of functional-integrity are important to develop and monitor. Whereas ecologists can identify general indicators, much work needs to be done to determine which attributes are most usefully measured in particular ecological communities and for particular management purposes (Karr, 1987). Some indicators will have direct relevance to policy or management objectives (e.g., responsible use of an economically valuable species whose viability depends on specific functional properties of an ecosystem). Others will serve primarily as signals to direct general attention to a region or type of ecological community. All indicators should be judged against standards of repeatability and precision so that changes and trends can be unambiguously detected. Before a monitoring and assessment program is established, considerable investment is needed to identify the most useful indicators. Procedures for doing so include workshops, seminars,

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation Box 2.4: Hawaii and the Pacific Islands: An Urgent Conservation Priority Strikingly different from the continental United States are the island systems of the Pacific Ocean for which the United States has current or historical responsibility. These comprise some 2,300 islands in eight political jurisdictions extending over an area much larger than that of the 48 states. In these islands, there are more endemic organisms per unit of land area than anywhere else in the United States and possibly more than anywhere else on earth. Over three-quarters of the bird and plant extinctions in the United States have occurred in Hawaii, where 34% of the country's endangered plant species and 40% of the nation's endangered bird species are found; another 30 bird species in Micronesia are proposed for federal listing. Thus, the Pacific is a priority for preserving biodiversity, with its rapidly changing political and economic situations—and time is running out. These island habitats and their associated marine communities can be dealt with effectively only through well-coordinated field research focusing on species inventories, adequate ecological information, and especially the role of alien-species invasion in island communities. In dealing with Hawaii, the unincorporated U.S. territories, American Samoa and Western Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the organization of a separate office within the NBS and of special attention within the NPBS seems indispensable. In Hawaii, making up only 0.2% of the land area of the United States, there are more than 10,000 unique species of plants, animals, fungi, and microorganisms—more than 90% of all the native species there. Starting with the arrival of the Polynesians 1,500 years ago and accelerating after the arrival of Europeans nearly 300 years ago, humans have already destroyed 90% of the dry forests, 61% of the mesic forests, 42% of the wet forests, and 3% of the subalpine forests of these ecologically diverse islands. Yet biodiversity is of critical importance to the future of Hawaii, in relation to land development, tourism, the preservation of unique species and for many other reasons. The integrated approach of the NPBS can powerfully influence the course of development and the future of biodiversity there. Nonnative species are a special threat in Hawaii and throughout the Pacific. Their populations should be monitored closely through a coop-

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation erative effort of the federal, state, local, and nongovernment agencies involved. Controlling these alien species is of critical importance for the preservation of native communities, to protect agriculture, and to retain options for the future. For example, banana poka (Passiflora mollissima) has already smothered over 70,000 acres of native forest on two islands and threatens to spread rapidly over additional forested areas. The brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis ) introduced on Guam has brought about the extinction of nine of the 11 species of native land birds since 1975. Hawaii is invaded successfully by at least 20 new nonnative invertebrates each year, with as many as 39 recorded for a single year (Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, 1992). Some of these species are destructive to native species, others are injurious to agriculture, and still others cause problems for human health. Cooperation among a number of different entities—including several departments of the state government; conservation groups led by The Nature Conservancy; the University of Hawaii's Center for Conservation, Research, and Training and other units; botanical gardens linked by the Center for Plant Conservation; and the Bishop Museum—appears to offer a promising direction for developing appropriate strategies for the management of biodiversity in Hawaii in the context of regional development. The recent adoption of a State Natural Area Partnership program, which will provide 2:1 matching funds to private landowners for long-term stewardship on their lands, is of special importance nationally and would doubtless work well in other areas. The development of a State Secretariat for Conservation, housed at and partly funded by the University of Hawaii, is another promising effort to contribute to the integration of conservation efforts in Hawaii. The kind of partnership among federal agencies that is envisioned in the NPBS could complete the picture and make the single area that represents one of our most critical conservation priorities a model for the rest of the country. and, where necessary, pilot projects. Retrospective analyses might help to identify indicators that would have been especially useful in the recent past if they had been used systematically. The NBS should be directly involved in this research.

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation REGIONAL COLLABORATIVE PROJECTS Recommendation 2-13: The NPBS should establish pilot projects in key selected regions of the United States, in which terrestrial, fresh-water, and marine communities and their interactions will be identified, characterized, mapped, and monitored. Our nation's biological resources are so great that management strategies aimed at single species are often impractical or ineffective in preserving or restoring them. Therefore, effective management requires that assessments of status extend from individual species to the ecosystems in which they live and that these assessments include an understanding of key mechanisms and the processes that regulate them. A more detailed knowledge of what makes ecosystems work as they do and how they are being affected by human activities that fragment and degrade them will help us to deal with the increasingly complex legal questions pertaining to land use and water management. To develop this cross-scale and multidisciplinary information, the NBS should work with other members of the National Partnership to choose a series of pilot projects targeted at areas that are changing rapidly because of different types of human activity (for example, metropolitan development, agricultural expansion, and resource extraction); areas of high biodiversity; areas in which diverse fresh-water, terrestrial, and marine ecosystems interact closely; and areas that are ecologically unique. A series of workshops should be conducted to determine which areas to select and how to design the projects. The projects should be designed to produce detailed ecological understanding of a range of ecosystems for comparison with other studies as starting points for long-term monitoring and as the first pieces in a national network that should ultimately include all major kinds of ecosystems. Equally important, these projects can serve to develop and refine methods for conducting future re-

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation search more efficiently and effectively. Some of these sites would be ideal places to conduct all-taxa biological inventories (Yoon, 1993). These projects should not be limited to taxonomic and ecological research. Evolutionary changes often accompany environmental ones and merit careful analysis. For example, the evolution of resistance to chemical pesticide has often occurred within a few generations or years (Georghiou, 1972). The genetic structure of salmon populations can change rapidly and markedly in a few generations in response to the rearing and releasing of hatchery fish (Gross, 1991). On a longer time scale, understanding the changes that have occurred in North American environments through geological time provides a baseline for comparison of the current status and trends. The projects should also involve other disciplines as appropriate, such as geology, hydrology, atmospheric science, and the social sciences. If the sites of the studies are well chosen, the projects can be especially useful in producing the kinds of scientific information that is needed to manage ecosystems effectively. They can also provide important opportunities for cost-effective collaboration among participants and for implementing an adaptive approach to priority-setting and management. Such an approach could be especially useful in areas like southern Florida, where many agencies and other organizations have separate or overlapping jurisdictions in one watershed and can operate under different or conflicting mandates (Box 2.3). In many cases, the studies might be able to take advantage of existing research and management programs (e.g., in reserves or long-term research areas) run under the auspices of various participants.

OCR for page 59
A Biological Survey for the Nation This page in the original is blank.