Evaluation of a regional monitoring program's statistical power to detect temporal trends in forest health indicators

Environ Manage. 2014 Sep;54(3):641-55. doi: 10.1007/s00267-014-0313-z. Epub 2014 Jul 16.


Forests are socioeconomically and ecologically important ecosystems that are exposed to a variety of natural and anthropogenic stressors. As such, monitoring forest condition and detecting temporal changes therein remain critical to sound public and private forestland management. The National Parks Service's Vital Signs monitoring program collects information on many forest health indicators, including species richness, cover by exotics, browse pressure, and forest regeneration. We applied a mixed-model approach to partition variability in data for 30 forest health indicators collected from several national parks in the eastern United States. We then used the estimated variance components in a simulation model to evaluate trend detection capabilities for each indicator. We investigated the extent to which the following factors affected ability to detect trends: (a) sample design: using simple panel versus connected panel design, (b) effect size: increasing trend magnitude, (c) sample size: varying the number of plots sampled each year, and (d) stratified sampling: post-stratifying plots into vegetation domains. Statistical power varied among indicators; however, indicators that measured the proportion of a total yielded higher power when compared to indicators that measured absolute or average values. In addition, the total variability for an indicator appeared to influence power to detect temporal trends more than how total variance was partitioned among spatial and temporal sources. Based on these analyses and the monitoring objectives of the Vital Signs program, the current sampling design is likely overly intensive for detecting a 5 % trend·year(-1) for all indicators and is appropriate for detecting a 1 % trend·year(-1) in most indicators.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Conservation of Natural Resources / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ecosystem
  • Models, Statistical
  • Research Design
  • Trees*
  • United States