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Basic information

     There are several types of background material that are important to review before proceeding.

How to use this web site

     The Salmon Monitoring Advisor uses a 7-step guide to organize the process of designing and implementing a salmon monitoring program. Each step can be accessed by using the navigation menu on either the top or left side, the site map, or the links at the bottom of the each page. There is also a "bread crumb trail" below the top navigation bar so that you can easily see the path that you have taken, and use that path to get back to where you started, in case you get lost in the site. At the bottom of most pages you will find a "Next:" line, which contains links to the next logical step in the sequence or to previous pages. Some pages have context-specific "Return to ..." links as well as a general "Go back" link; the latter is equivalent to the "Back" button on your web browser, which takes you back to the page that you viewed previously.

Each of the 7 steps has at least three tabs:  "Overview", "Introduction", and "Results and next steps".  In several steps, there are additional tabs to cover step-specific topics.

Throughout the site, we provide various ways to obtain additional information. There is a Resources tab located in the top menu bar that will give you access to the Definitions, References, External Links, and Tools pages. We often provide concise introductory text on a topic with the option of viewing more detail by clicking on the plus sign that is enclosed in a small box. The resulting expandable text box can then be closed by clicking on the minus sign in the box's top left corner. Elsewhere, some technical terms in the text are highlighted, indicating that a definition of that term will appear when the mouse is held motionless on top of that term. As well, clicking on that term will take you to the Definitions page to allow you to copy or print that definition.  This web site also contains supplemental information including references to other web sites and publications, as well as examples, sometimes in spreadsheets. These can be viewed via "pop-up" boxes and additional links. 


      Here is the context for this web site and some justification for its topics.

  • Designing monitoring programs for Pacific salmon is complex. Salmon managers, scientists, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) face a substantial challenge when choosing the most cost-effective designs for monitoring programs to assess status and time trends in abundance, productivity, spatial structure, and diversity of salmon populations.

  • Inadequate monitoring can have serious consequences in terms of reduced social and economic benefits and increased conservation risks for salmon populations.

  • Salmon management agencies expend considerable funds on monitoring salmon and their habitats, yet those programs may not be providing information that is as reliable as needed to meet regulatory requirements.

  • This lack of appropriate information about status and resilience of salmon populations is especially important in light of changing climatic conditions and their known effects on salmon. There is an extensive literature on this link between climate and salmon; for a thorough annotated bibliography of that literature, see Beamish et al. (2010).

  • More about climatic effects on salmon

    Climate describes the long-term character of all variations in variables that measure weather. Climate is most commonly thought of as the weighted-average, or "expected" value of these factors, usually over many years, but it also includes their range and other measures of variability. However, climate at most locations is not steady or regular. There can be considerable variability in any factor. For example, temperature, precipitation, and ocean currents often differ from the mean state (the long-term average) or from the annual cycle. These variations occur on a variety of time scales, from year-to-year (El Niño, La Niña), decade-to-decade, (e.g., hydrologic cycles), to centuries (e.g., ice ages). "Climate change" is a trend in which factors increase or decrease either slowly over an extended period, or quickly over a short period, but then stay at a new level over a longer period. A time trend that occurs similarly over of much of the earth may be a sign of "Global climate change". Some of this climate change is due to natural factors, such as variability in solar activity, volcanic gases and dust in the atmosphere, or the distribution of heat in the ocean. However many scientists believe that anthropogenic (human-causes) factors have a considerable influence on changes in the Earth"s climate observed over the past century (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007).

    Salmon have been strongly affected by climate change. Salmon stocks from Alaska have been highly productive since the 1976 regime change in the North Pacific, by about a factor of two more productive than in the 1946-75 period. Salmon stocks from California, Oregon, and Washington have increased and decreased out of phase with the fluctuations in salmon in Alaska, and this "reciprocal oscillation" has been going on for the 70 years of available records. While some of the California, Oregon, and Washington decreases in salmon abundance can be attributed to overharvesting and changes or losses in their freshwater habitat, much of decline and the Alaskan increases are due to environmental changes. The increased Alaskan salmon production corresponds to an eastward shift of the atmospheric Aleutian low-pressure system, which produces more frequent and severe winter storms and a warming of the surface waters in the Gulf of Alaska. Such shifts between warm and cold periods are part of what is now called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation or PDO. Environmental signals from California, Oregon, and Washington since 1976 have shown decreased precipitation and stream flows and warmer coastal ocean temperatures to previous decades. Good survival rates of salmon from northern British Columbia southward are associated with sustained cool surface temperatures near the coast (indicating upwelling of nutrient-rich water) during the period when young salmon enter the oceans. Thus, warm conditions in this season usually result in poorer salmon survival for salmon populations in that "southern region". In contrast, though, Alaskan salmon stocks generally tend to have increased survival rates in those same periods in which ocean conditions are unfavorable to the more southern populations. The exact mechanisms of how climate change affects salmon production are still in the early stages of investigation, but at present (2009), the most likely hypotheses are that these effects are due to a combination of food availability in the coastal nearshore environment during early ocean life of salmon and abundance of predators of young salmon.

    — Adapted from the Coastwatch Browser and modified based on recent data in Mueter et al. (2002a) and Dorner et al. (2008).

  • Although most examples on this web site illustrate monitoring of salmon population indicators such as abundance, productivity, and spatial diversity, we emphasize that most of our guidance is equally applicable to designing programs for monitoring habitat variables. If the latter is your focus, simply substitute your own habitat variables into the discussions here about salmon indicators. As well, see the Roper et al. (2010) paper for a comprehensive comparison of protocols for measuring stream habitat.

  • Find out more here about the challenges of designing informative monitoring programs.
More about your challenges
  • The challenges of developing reliable monitoring programs are becoming more acute with decreasing funds for monitoring and increasing conservation threats from anthropogenic and natural sources such as climatic changes.
  • Scientists and managers in management agencies, as well as members of non-governmental organizations related to salmon, need advice. In particular, they need advice on how to make cost-effective decisions about use of decreasing funds for monitoring status and time trends in abundance and productivity, as well as diversity, which will affect the resilience of salmon populations to natural and human disturbances.

  • Similarly, field staff who implement monitoring designs can benefit from clearly understanding the advantages and disadvantages of particular designs, as well as the ways in which the usefulness of data gathered with those designs can be inadvertently reduced by local decisions made in the field during implementation.

  • It is difficult to attribute particular causal mechanisms to observed changes in indicators of Pacific salmon. Confounding of responses of Pacific salmon populations often exist due to simultaneously occurring anthropogenic and natural processes (e.g. climatic changes).

  • Different types of designs are necessary for (a) estimating the status and trends in status of salmon and (b) understanding the mechanisms behind those observed changes.

  • Adequate monitoring is necessary to determine whether relevant criteria are being met for maintaining or rebuilding viable salmon populations; those criteria are defined for Viable Salmon Populations (VSP) in the U.S.A. and are being developed for the Wild Salmon Policy in Canada as of 2009.

Why do we need to monitor?

      There are three fundamentally important reasons for conducting monitoring programs for Pacific salmon populations.

  1. We need to continually observe ecological systems to update estimates of their condition because human-induced and natural stressors, including climatic change, can unexpectedly alter the status and function of ecosystems.

  2. If humans are to reverse or at least mitigate the effects of such stressors, causal mechanisms of such observed changes need to be identified. Monitoring helps to suggest possible causal mechanisms. This may be true even if little use is initially foreseen for the data to be collected. The best-known example of fortuitously gathered data that provided key evidence for a major cause of climatic change is the atmospheric carbon-dioxide data set gathered at Mauna Loa since the 1950s.

  3. Monitoring is also needed because when well-intentioned decisions are made to implement particular strategies that are designed to improve or at least maintain the status of Pacific salmon populations, unexpected events can occur. Such events arise due to the complex nature of salmon-bearing ecosystems and unpredictable natural variation and human behavior. Therefore, we should continue to monitor after taking management actions to assess how well those actions actually work, as well as to improve on actions that did not work as planned. As Winston Churchill once quipped:

"However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results".

Other purposes of this web site

     This web site presents a conceptual framework to illustrate how to identify objectives for monitoring salmon populations, the questions to ask, and topics to address in order to design appropriate monitoring programs. This conceptual framework will:

  • Help identify the reasons for conducting monitoring, that is, help to articulate the goals and objectives of a monitoring program.

  • Provide both summaries and detailed examples of monitoring designs that have been used in the past to meet particular monitoring objectives.

  • Help users conceptualize their monitoring problem and determine how much they can extrapolate from our general guidelines (and our examples of monitoring designs) to their particular monitoring situations, based in part on:
    • Available budget and institutional support/infrastructure
    • Pros and cons (limitations, vulnerabilities, failure modes) of each sampling design.
  • Provide a systematic approach to adapting this web site's material to users' own local monitoring situations.
  • Provide a common language and framework to help coordinate planning of multiple monitoring projects, which often occurs across multiple agencies.

  • Assist with recovery planning and evaluation of status with respect to de-listing.

  • Help with designing monitoring programs on habitat indicators by substituting habitat indicators for salmon indicators in the web pages below.
  • Inspire users to creatively develop their own monitoring designs that best meet their particular needs.
  • Assist with implementing monitoring programs, choosing methods of analysis of the resulting data, and communicating results of those analyses to a variety of audiences.
  • Emphasize that this web site IS NOT a compilation of "best practices" for monitoring programs on salmon. Instead, we simply provide some time-tested guidelines and examples that will serve as starting points for discussion, but we strongly encourage users to adapt these guidelines and examples to their own needs by working through our seven steps.
  • Indicate how different elements of monitoring problems are related and which uncertainties should be considered.

Furthermore, this web site will:

  • Provide references, data sources, and software
  • Improve reliability of monitoring programs
  • Help people use limited monitoring funds most effectively
  • Lead to more shareable information that can assist across-agency collaboration
  • Build a community of users of this web site to improve monitoring programs widely

Pros and cons of alternative monitoring designs

     A key step for people involved in designing monitoring programs is choose the type of spatial and temporal sampling design to implement. This web site is not prescriptive in the sense of specifying a particular design to meet a given monitoring objective. Instead, the user will be presented with a range of choices along with the pros and cons of each design option. In this way, the web site will help users make well-informed choices.


Where do you fit in?

    To find the parts of this web site that are most directly relevant to you, choose the appropriate link below.

I fund or authorize monitoring programs or use their results.

Help me decide
You either determine funding levels for monitoring programs or use their results to make decisions. Those decisions include everything along a spectrum that ranges from regulatory actions (such as those taken by government agencies) to local decisions about conservation actions made by watershed-level councils or stream-keepers' groups.

I am involved in the design, implementation, or analysis of monitoring programs.

Help me decide
You design monitoring programs, implement them in the field, or analyze the resulting data.


If necessary, Go back to Overview, otherwise just choose above where you fit it. 



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