What We Monitor

A model for ecosystem interactions
The Central Alaska Network uses long-term ecological monitoring to track changes in selected park resources and processes, called "vital signs." Monitoring these key resources helps us to understand how these ecosystems work and the overall condition of park resources.

A holistic conceptual model was used to identify critical vital signs. The model shows the relationships among park management concerns, ecosystem components and physical drivers, and near-field and far-field anthropogenic drivers of change.

Vegetation and Soils





  • Bald eagle at the top of a tree.
    Bald Eagles

    Bald Eagles are top predators and often respond quickly to changes in their environment.

  • A bull caribou in velvet.

    Four distinct herds of caribou are found in Central Alaska parklands.

  • A Golden eagle about to land on a cliff.
    Golden Eagles

    Denali National Park and Preserve has the longest-running ecological study of migratory Golden Eagles in the world.

  • A close up of a Dall's sheep.
    Dall's Sheep

    Central Alaska parklands contain about 20% of the world's population of Dall's sheep.

  • A falcon in flight.
    Peregrine Falcons

    The upper Yukon River corridor is densely populated with Peregrine Falcons.

  • A pika peeks out from a crevice in a rock field.
    Small Mammals

    Although these small mammals are hardly visible, many larger species depend on them.

  • A bull moose.

    Moose are good indicators of long-term ecosystem change because they depend on large-scale, healthy habitats for food and cover.

  • A gray jay perched.

    Passerines provide key ecosystem functions, like seed dispersal.

  • A close up of a wolf.

    Wolves are a keystone large mammal in Central Alaska parks. They depend on healthy populations of large ungulate prey.


Landscape/Physical Environment

  • Sunrise.
    Air Quality

    Air quality can be impacted by local or regional sources (local wildfires) or from sources far away, such as industry on other continents.

  • A researcher maintaining a weather station.

    Climate is the most fundamental driver of ecological condition.

  • A researcher sets up sound recording equipment.

    Different habitats have specific soundscape characteristics that are important attributes of that natural system.

  • Researchers measure the mass of a glacier.

    Glaciers are dominant and dynamic physical features and a major driver of landscape change.

  • A researcher measuring snow depth.

    Seasonal snowpack has a major influence on hydrology, vegetation, and wildlife.

Last updated: November 14, 2018