Michael Morrison, field station manager of the University of California’s White Mountain Research Station in Bishop, California, and an adjunct professor in the School of Forestry at Northern Arizona University, is thoroughly qualified to write about techniques for analyzing habitat and monitoring animals: He has written extensively about the concepts and terminology of habitat and is the coauthor of Wildlife: Habitat Relationships (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998) and Wildlife Study Design (New York: Springer-Verlag, 2001).
In Wildlife Restoration: Techniques for Habitat Analysis and Animal Monitoring, Morrison seeks to to expand the concept of restoration beyond the rehabilitation of damaged sites to the conservation and stewardship of lands and their wildlife. A second purpose is to convey the message that restoration of all types is a scientifically rigorous undertaking. Morrison warns the reader to take the subject seriously, apparently aware of the high incidence of half-baked restoration projects. For restoration to succeed, Morrison advises, people must sit and think long and hard before they race out of the door. That is one lesson among many from the book that is relevant everywhere, although most of the examples Morrison uses are from the western United States, specifically San Diego County.
Morrison starts the book with the traditional concept of restoration as something done to repair damaged lands. He points out that restoration of vegetation is often undertaken to create “wildlife habitat,” although this goal is usually not spelled out in a project’s success criteria or monitoring program. What constitutes wildlife habitat must be defined specifically and consistently, the author rightly argues. Morrison then leads the reader through a maze of frequently misused concepts such as habitat quality, habitat availability, and habitat use. I would have liked to see the section in the second chapter on how spatial scale affects project goals expanded to consider more of the complications that make developing those goals so difficult. While restoration goals for, say, a salamander may automatically suggest goals and research at a small scale (watersheds notwithstanding), I think large-scale projects that have goals such as “increased species richness” should address a combination of large- and small-scale goals. This is because much of that species richness will come from small organisms that use resources at a small scale (another example of how wildlife restoration is a complicated business).
Throughout the book, Morrison repeats his recommendation that unambiguous goals should be established at the start of a project, and this cannot be said too often. It is a practice that wildlife agencies should adopt in their own projects and in those they review. When reading this book, you get the feeling that Morrison has seen many restoration projects flounder and is familiar with failures to which restorers have often turned a blind eye. The savvy ecologist should not be put off by Morrison’s admonitions to increase rigor, but be glad he is lecturing people on such an important matter.
Morrison provides an almost dizzying array of techniques and issues for the reader to consider. This may have been done to illustrate the complexity of restoration projects. I was pleased he mentions that the success of restoration projects depends on the development of and adherence to a rigorous study design, that monitoring is research, and that inventories are not quick-and-dirty surveys. However, I would have preferred his cautions about potential technical pitfalls in monitoring to be more powerful. I would also have welcomed a stronger stand on issues such as the importance of thinking about variables before you choose them, the assumptions associated with the use of indices and indicators, and the problems with using habitat as a surrogate for population status and trends (we rarely have a firmly documented link between the two). Some case studies on the results of these misuses would have been useful here. Morrison is a persuasive writer, and I hoped to see the same firmness that he admonishes the ecologist to use when thinking about habitat applied to some of these other issues.
Despite the wealth of facts that are presented for readers to consider, there were some gaps in the book. The approximately three pages on how to minimize observer bias in chapter 2 do not mention techniques for estimating the probability of detecting individuals (Lancia et al. 1996), though Morrison and colleagues emphasized this design issue in another publication (2001), and it would have been useful to have it described in this book as well. Additionally, a mention of the emerging use of information-theoretic approaches to analysis and modeling (Burnham and Anderson 2002) would have been useful in the section about modeling in chapter 5.
If you have been frustrated when communicating to others why restoration of any kind requires rigor (“We’ll track vegetation to see how the species are doing” is a refrain heard too often), Morrison is sympathetic. His book can provide some useful words for making your case.