In ecological monitoring, data on changes in biotic and environmental attributes over space and time are used to investigate the function and persistence of ecosystems, and how societal actions affect ecosystem attributes. Long-term monitoring is particularly important as it yields insights that are not possible from short-term investigations (e.g. those that span only a few seasons or years). Despite being crucial for understanding our environment, securing long-term monitoring in Australia is notoriously difficult. But there are exceptions from which we can learn.
Successful monitoring can be understood by answering two key questions: What are the characteristics of effective monitoring studies? And, what factors contributed to these studies being maintained and remaining influential in the long-term? In this paper, we address these questions, primarily through collating the practical wisdom learned first-hand by a diverse set of people who have successfully led long-term monitoring programs, and subsequently formed the Long Term Ecological Research Network in Australia in 2011 through Commonwealth funding, only to see it de-funded in 2017.
We synthesise these learnings to identify four key characteristics of any successful ecological monitoring program, and eight key characteristics of successful long-term monitoring. Essential features include: appropriate study design, adequate data curation and management practices, agile project management and funding strategies, concerted succession planning, diverse and strong partnerships, and varied and effective forms of communication. These features, if each attained sufficiently, should enable the necessary spectrum of (adequately-funded) activity from: (1) robustly collected and curated ecological information; to (2) scientific understanding; to (3) planned intervention; to (4) adaptive management.