I & M staff visit all landscapes in the park, including the cliffs at Mt. LeConte.
NPS photo by Laura Carnal.
There are seven programs in Resource Management and Science: (1) Air Quality, (2) Cultural Resources, (3) Fire, (4) Fisheries, (5) Inventory and Monitoring, (6) Vegetation, and (7) Wildlife.
This month, meet the people and projects in Inventory & Monitoring.
What is Inventory & Monitoring (I & M)? Scientists in the park’s Inventory & Monitoring program have two important roles:
- Coordinating surveys (the inventory) of the park’s natural resources. These resources include not only plants and animals but also geology, soils, special communities (such as wetlands), and individual species of interest (such as threatened, endangered, or endemic species). In this stage, park scientists also ask, “What are the distributions, ecological roles, and conservation status of these resources?”
- Watching trends (the monitoring) of the diversity, health, and abundance (numbers) of these organisms over the long term.
The Smokies covers over 500,000 acres, so scientists choose small areas called plots that represent the huge range of habitats and elevations in the park. Plots are in forests, grasslands, wetlands, and even sections of streams and cliff faces. Park geographers, biologists, botanists, foresters, and entomologists all take part in this work. Depending on what they’re studying, park staff may record
- what individual species exist, including what endangered, rare, or endemic species thrive
- species composition (the collection of species found)
- abundance (the number of individuals of each species)
- diversity (how many different types of species are there)
- association (how species live together)
- location (the map and Global Positioning System coordinates of the study area)
- known or potential threats (including invasive, non-native plant or animal species, disease, disturbance, or others)
This information serves as a quantitative baseline. Over time, scientists return to the carefully mapped plots to watch for changes from this known baseline, which might be the first sign of a problem in the park ecosystem as a whole. Why inventory and monitor park life? Go to page 2 to find out.