Long-term ecosystem research and monitoring was begun in the Loch Vale watershed of Rocky Mountain National Park in 1983, after extensive survey work to identify the best location. Then, as now, our scientific objectives were to understand natural biogeochemical cycles and variability, so that we could differentiate ecosystem changes from human-caused disturbances, such as atmospheric deposition of pollutants and climate change. We have learned many lessons, often through our mistakes, that are worth passing on. Clear scientific objectives, even for long-term monitoring, are essential. Standardized methods, including rigorous quality assurance procedures should be adhered to from the beginning of the program. All data, even those collected routinely for background records, should be scrutinized and summarized at least once a year. Freely share basic information such as weather, hydrologic, chemical, and descriptive records with other researchers who can build upon your efforts. Use many tools when asking complex ecological questions, in order to minimize bias toward specific results. Publish frequently; long-term studies do not imply there are no interim conclusions or interesting findings. Interpret findings frequently to policy makers and citizens; increased understanding of the environment and human-caused changes may improve natural resource management, and build support for ecological research. And finally, be persistent. Long-term ecological research can be frustrating and difficult to maintain, yet is often the best way to observe and understand ecological change on a meaningful time scale.
Additional publication details
Lessons learned from long-term ecosystem research and monitoring in alpine and subalpine basins of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, USA