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How to monitor biodiversity for REDD projects

Although the international program Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) was developed in order to lower greenhouse gas emissions by protecting standing forests, conservationists have long pointed out that another result from a well-crafted REDD program could be to conserve biodiversity. But one of the difficulties of including biodiversity is how to measure the success or failure of conservation in a REDD site. A new opinion piece in’s open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science analyzes two effective ways to monitor biodiversity in REDD sites focusing on bats and big mammals.

“We maintain that it is necessary to assess whether the management of the REDD project areas is achieving the objective of maintaining biodiversity. It will therefore be important to monitor changes and trends in populations of the key indicator taxa,” the authors write, pointing out a number of factors that should be apart of any monitoring program of biodiversity for REDD, including tracking species that indicate habitat quality (and not just endangered species), developing a methodology that could be used in any forest worldwide, and using a protocol that is cheap and requires minimal training.

Two methods that fulfill this criteria are camera trapping of large and medium-sized mammals and acoustic sampling of bats.

An increasingly popular scientific tool, camera traps take photos of passing animals, often in remote areas.

“After the initial investment, [camera traps] are cost effective over time. They operate both day and night, in nearly any landscape or vegetation cover, for the life of their batteries, which can be months. They are non-invasive with minimal bias. Resulting photos are automatically date/time stamped and provide unambiguous archivable data, unlike more ephemeral data such as tracks or scat. In addition, interesting animal behavior of scientific interest may be recorded. Resulting images often have value for education or promotional purposes,” the authors write. Camera traps are being increasingly used to track the rise and fall of mammal populations worldwide, making them a good choice for measuring biodiversity.

Another way to take stock of biodiversity in forests, according to the authors, is to monitor bat species through acoustic sampling.

“Globally, forests are the centers of the highest bat diversity. Bats also serve as indicators of habitat quality and reflect even minor habitat perturbations,” the authors write. Each bat species has a unique vocal signature, which makes it possible to document bats in the area simply by recording them.

“Systems can range from fully automated, solar powered, with remote data access and equipment management, to simpler systems that require field technicians to visit monitoring stations to retrieve data and recharge monitoring station batteries at fixed time intervals,” the authors explain, adding that acoustic sampling may also be used to identify some types of birds, frogs, and monkeys, providing additional data on biodiversity.

Key to both of these systems are their relative ease. Instead of having a dozen biologists tromp through forests for days on end, these methods capture species data non-invasively and with far less effort.

“Using standardized equipment (e.g., camera traps and acoustic monitoring stations), data analysis and management protocols will more likely lead to robust, repeatable, defensible data comparable over time, between sites,” the authors write.

CITATION: Waldon, J., Miller, B. W. and Miller, C. M. 2011. A model biodiversity monitoring protocol for REDD projects. Tropical Conservation Science Vol. 4(3):254-260.

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