Environmental Monitoring

Course Description: 

Environmental monitoring is a broad field which intends to answer both very specific questions such as "what is the concentration of lead in the water and is it above a threshold of safety" to very broad questions such as "what is the condition of a particular ecosystem and is it changing?" Answering such questions with an effective monitoring strategy takes very different approaches. The lectures, discussions, readings and field exercises for this course are intended to expose the student to a wide range of monitoring strategies and current environmental issues.

The course will highlight principles and techniques of effective environmental monitoring programs, how to develop and design a scientific monitoring program using a variety of approaches and how to use bioindicators to monitor ecosystem health. We will discuss how these methods may be used to monitor amphibian populations and their habitats. The field component will focus on the use of amphibians as bio-indicators of the integrity of freshwater habitats in the Pilis Hills. On-site habitat assessments will be complemented by quantitative field work using Visual Encounter Surveys (VESs) and the amphibian Road Call Count (RCC) method. Group reports will be based on data derived from selected sites.

1) Most monitoring programs fail to meet their stated goals because of insufficient work being done before the monitoring program is implemented. We will begin the course by discussing key issues that must be addressed for a successful study.   
2) Building on the first lecture, we will discuss appropriate study design to ensure that the data derived from a monitoring program is capable of answering the questions of concern. This sounds obvious, but is where many monitoring programs fail.  
3) The effects of contamination and a changing environment are often most readily understood by their impact on sensitive bioindicators. We will examine a suite of bioindicators to measures of ecosystem change and environmental contamination, with special emphasis on amphibians.  
4) Measuring environmental changes is often more practical and cost effective using remote sensing. We will look at some remote sensing techniques with an emphasis on current satellite platforms and their capabilities for detecting environmental change.  
5)  Monitoring is expensive, and often too resource challenging for any one person or agency. Partnerships using a volunteer- or community-based approach have been successful at overcoming these problems for some monitoring programs. We will discuss the pros and cons of a volunteer-based monitoring program and will use the Marsh Monitoring Program in Canada as a case study which will provide some background to the field component of the course.  
6) The field component of the course will involve 'hands-on' approaches to assessing habitats and estimating abundance of various anuran species along a series of ponds in the Pilis Hills.  It will also provide students with an opportunity to improve their ethics in conducting field ecology research.

Learning Outcomes: 

1) understand the basic principles of environmental monitoring 2) identify the pros and cons of various approaches to monitoring the environment 3) be aware of common bioindicators and how they are used 4) understand the concepts in effective study design and apply them to a monitoring question of concern 5) conduct a simple amphibian monitoring study 6) present findings in a clear and concise fashion 7) work more effectively in a group setting 8) improve ethical conduct whilst undertaking field research


Group report (40%)

Individual report (50%)

Group self-assessment (5%)

Field ethics (5%)