As in John Godfrey Saxe's poem about six blind men and an elephant, conclusions drawn from a monitoring program depend critically on where and when observations are made. We examined results from the Delaware Bay horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) spawning survey to evaluate the effect of spatial and temporal coverage on conclusions about spawning activity. Declines due to previously unregulated harvest triggered an increase in monitoring. Although we detected no apparent trend in bay-wide spawning activity for 1999-2005, conclusions would have differed depending on where and when observations were made. For example, spawning activity in May during the shorebird stopover was a poor predictor of spawning activity over the whole season. Observations made only during peak spawning incorrectly suggested that spawning activity increased during 2001-2005. Trends at one place in the bay were not indicative of trends for the whole bay. Many natural resource issues begin like the blind men and the elephant with dispute partially caused by an incomplete picture of the resource. As sufficient time and funds are directed to gathering necessary data using effective sampling designs, a more complete picture can emerge.
Additional publication details
Seeing the elephant: Importance of spatial and temporal coverage in a large-scale volunteer-based program to monitor horseshoe crabs