National Park stewardship and ‘vital signs’ monitoring: a case study from Channel Islands National Park, California


  • This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the U.S.A.


  • 1.Place-based conservation strategies require that stewards know and understand the targeted ecosystems, restore impaired resources, protect the ecosystems, and connect people wholeheartedly to the places. Knowledge of ecosystem structure and functioning is the cornerstone of stewardship.
  • 2.This paper describes the design, implementation, and application of an ecological monitoring programme in Channel Islands National Park, California, USA. Experience from this programme showed that monitoring ecological ‘vital signs’ was a quick, sure, and inexpensive way to discover and track ecosystem dynamics.
  • 3.Monitoring ecological ‘vital signs’ determined status and trends of ecosystem integrity and established limits of normal variation of key ecosystem features. It also provided early warnings of situations that required intervention and helped frame research questions to determine chains of cause and consequence.
  • 4.The strong influence and probabilistic nature of biological interactions in ecosystems precluded effective use of deterministic modelling to predict ecosystem behaviour accurately. Therefore, ongoing monitoring was required to increase knowledge of system dynamics reliably. The US National Park Service has begun to identify and monitor the ecological ‘vital signs’ in 32 networks of 270 parks.

Published in 2004 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.