For an ecological monitoring program to be successful over the long-term, the perceived benefits of the information must justify the cost. Financial limitations will always restrict the scope of a monitoring program, hence the program's focus must be carefully prioritized. Clearly identifying the costs and benefits of a program will assist in this prioritization process, but this is easier said than done. Frequently, the true costs of monitoring are not recognized and are, therefore, underestimated. Benefits are rarely evaluated, because they are difficult to quantify. The intent of this review is to assist the designers and managers of long-term ecological monitoring programs by providing a general framework for building and operating a cost-effective program. Previous considerations of monitoring costs have focused on sampling design optimization. We present cost considerations of monitoring in a broader context. We explore monitoring costs, including both budgetary costs--what dollars are spent on--and economic costs, which include opportunity costs. Often, the largest portion of a monitoring program budget is spent on data collection, and other, critical aspects of the program, such as scientific oversight, training, data management, quality assurance, and reporting, are neglected. Recognizing and budgeting for all program costs is therefore a key factor in a program's longevity. The close relationship between statistical issues and cost is discussed, highlighting the importance of sampling design, replication and power, and comparing the costs of alternative designs through pilot studies and simulation modeling. A monitoring program development process that includes explicit checkpoints for considering costs is presented. The first checkpoint occur during the setting of objectives and during sampling design optimization. The last checkpoint occurs once the basic shape of the program is known, and the costs and benefits, or alternatively the cost-effectiveness, of each program element can be evaluated. Moving into the implementation phase without careful evaluation of costs and benefits is risky because if costs are later found to exceed benefits, the program will fail. The costs of development, which can be quite high, will have been largely wasted. Realistic expectations of costs and benefits will help ensure that monitoring programs survive the early, turbulent stages of development and the challenges posed by fluctuating budgets during implementation.
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Cost considerations for long-term ecological monitoring