Guidelines for the rapid assessment of inland, coastal and marine wetland biodiversity


"Wetlands and water: supporting life, sustaining livelihoods"
9th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties
to the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)
Kampala, Uganda, 8-15 November 2005

Guidelines for the rapid assessment of inland, coastal and marine wetland biodiversity

(Resolution IX.1 Annex E i)


1. Background and Introduction
2. Scope and approach of the wetland rapid assessment guidelines
3. What is "rapid assessment"?
4. Issues to consider when designing a wetland rapid assessment
5. When is rapid assessment appropriate?
6. Rapid assessment in relation to monitoring
7. Special considerations relating to small island states
8. A conceptual framework for rapid assessment

A. The rapid assessment decision tree
B. Assessment types

9. Design considerations

A. Resources
B. Scope
C. Sampling and data analysis

10. References
Appendix 1. Assessment analysis methods and indices
Appendix 2. Sampling methods for wetland habitats, features and different wetland-dependent taxa

1. Background and introduction

1. The Ramsar Convention's Strategic Plan 2003-2008 (Action 1.2.3) requests the STRP, Ramsar Secretariat and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to "develop guidelines for rapid assessment of wetland biodiversity and functions and for monitoring change in ecological character, including the use of indicators, for both inland and coastal and marine ecosystems, for consideration by COP9".

2. This echoes the call in CBD Decision IV/4 on its inland waters programme of work (for which the Ramsar Convention acts as a lead implementation partner) for the development and dissemination of regional guidelines for rapid assessment of inland water biological diversity for different types of inland water ecosystems. Similarly, CBD Decision VI/5 requested "development of methodologies . . . for scientific assessments, including those relating to marine and coastal biological diversity."

3. The CBD guidance for inland waters was drafted by Conservation International and further developed by an expert meeting convened jointly by the CBD and Ramsar Secretariats and involving both CBD and Ramsar experts nominated by national focal points. The guidance is specifically intended to meet the needs of both CBD and Ramsar Convention, in line with the CBD/Ramsar 3rd Joint Work Plan. Marine and coastal guidance, developed through an electronic working group, was modelled on that for inland waters, and its approach and general structure is consistent with the inland waters guidance.

4. The original CBD guidelines were made available to the eighth meeting of CBD's Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) and are available for download from the CBD Web site [] as CBD/SBSTTA/8/INF/5 (inland waters) and CBD/SBSTTA/8/INF/13 (marine and coastal), plus a short supplementary marine and coastal paper (CBD/SBSTTA/9/INF/25).

5. Concerning the inland waters guidelines, CBD COP7 in 2004 (Decision VII/4) welcomed the guidelines, recognized their usefulness for creating baseline or reference data sets for inland water ecosystems of different types and for addressing the serious gaps that exist in knowledge of taxonomy, distribution, and conservation status of freshwater species, and invited its Parties, other governments and relevant organizations to use and promote the application of the guidelines, in particular in the circumstances of small island developing states and in the territories of states in which inland water ecosystems suffer from ecological disaster.

6. In 2004, Ramsar's Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP) considered how best to incorporate the various components of the CBD rapid assessment guidelines into the suite of Ramsar guidances on inventory, assessment and monitoring. The Panel determined that, given that the Ramsar definition of "wetlands" covers both inland waters and marine and coastal systems, it is most appropriate for its application by Ramsar Contracting Parties to make the guidance available as a single consolidated guidance document, with the relevant material from all three inland waters and marine and coastal CBD papers merged. These present guidelines are thus a compiled and edited version of the CBD materials, prepared by the Ramsar Secretariat and the STRP, working with the CBD Secretariat. Throughout this Ramsar version of the guidelines, the CBD terms "inland waters" and "marine and coastal ecosystems" are as appropriate replaced by the term "wetlands" sensu Ramsar.

7. The CBD rapid assessment guidelines documents also contain a number of detailed methodological tables, and case studies, supporting implementation of the general rapid assessment guidance. Not all of these lengthy and detailed tables are included in this present document. It is planned to further compile and make available to Ramsar Contracting Parties and others the full set of these CBD Appendices, tables and case studies, in the form of a Ramsar Technical Report.

2. Scope and approach of the wetland rapid assessment guidelines

8. These guidelines focus on the assessment of biological diversity at the species and community level. However, reference is also made to tools which will assist in the assessment of wetland ecosystems. In addition, information is also included in these guidelines on rapid assessment methodologies for assessing change in coastal ecosystems in the aftermath of natural disasters. These methodologies have been developed to assist in the assessment of the impacts to coastal ecosystems of the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004.

9. The present guidelines do not provide methodological guidance for rapidly assessing the full range of socio-economic or cultural values of the biological diversity of wetland ecosystems. CBD COP7 (Decision VII/4) recognized this and requested further collaborative work between CBD, the Ramsar Convention and other relevant organisations to develop a complementary set of tools to assess the function and health of inland water ecosystems and the socio-economic and cultural values of biological diversity of inland waters. In addition, the guidance on the economic valuation of wetlands being prepared by the Scientific and Technical Review Panel for publication as a Ramsar Technical Report provides a contribution to these aspects, since it includes information on economic valuation methods which may be considered as 'rapid'.

10. The present rapid assessment guidelines draw heavily on, and are consistent with, the general guidelines for selecting appropriate wetland inventory methods in Ramsar's "A Framework for Wetland Inventory" (COP8 Resolution VIII.6). As is set out in the rapid assessment guidelines, rapid assessment methods can be applied for a number of types and purposes of wetland inventory and assessment. Hence this guidance is relevant to the implementation of a number of aspects of the Ramsar "Integrated Framework for Wetland Inventory, Assessment and Monitoring" (Resolution IX.1 Annex E).

11. The guidelines are designed to serve the needs of Contracting Parties of both the Ramsar Convention and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Rapid assessment methods are placed in the context of more comprehensive inventory, assessment and monitoring programmes, and a conceptual framework for their design and implementation is included. They are intended to provide advice and technical guidance that is useful to wide range of Parties with different circumstances, including geographic size, wetland types, and institutional capacities.

12. The guidelines stress the importance of clearly establishing the purpose as the basis for design and implementation of the assessment in each case. They also emphasize that before deciding on whether a new field survey using rapid assessment methods is necessary, a review of existing knowledge and information, including information held by local communities, should be undertaken.

13. Subsequent steps are then presented in the form of a "decision tree" to facilitate the selection of appropriate methods to meet the purpose of the assessment. An indication of the categories of information which can be acquired through each of the rapid assessment methods is provided. Summary information on a range of appropriate and available methods suitable for each rapid assessment purpose is included, as is information on a range of different data analysis tools.

3. What is "rapid assessment"?

14. Rapid assessment, for the purpose of this guidance, is defined as: "a synoptic assessment, which is often undertaken as a matter of urgency, in the shortest timeframe possible to produce reliable and applicable results for its defined purpose".

15. It is important to note that rapid assessment methods for wetlands are not generally designed to take into account temporal variance, such as seasonality, in ecosystems. However, some rapid assessment methods can be (and are) used in repeat surveys as elements of an integrated monitoring programme to address such temporal variance.

16. Rapid assessment techniques are particularly relevant to the species level of biological diversity, and the present guidance focuses on assessments at that level. Certain other rapid assessment methods, including remote sensing techniques, can be applicable to the ecosystem/wetland habitat level, particularly for rapid inventory assessments, and it may be appropriate to develop further guidance on ecosystem-level rapid assessment methods. However, assessments at the genetic level of biological diversity do not generally lend themselves to "rapid" approaches.

17. The complex nature and variability of wetland ecosystems means that there is no single rapid assessment method that can be applied to the wide range of wetland types and for the variety of different purposes for which assessments are undertaken. Furthermore, the extent of what is possible in a given case will depend on the resources and capacities available.

18. In the detailed guidance that follows, five specific purposes for undertaking rapid assessment are distinguished: baseline inventory (called inventory assessment in the CBD version of the guidelines), specific-species assessment, change assessment, indicator assessment, and economic resource assessment.

4. Issues to consider when designing a wetland rapid assessment

19. The following nine issues should be taken into account when designing any rapid assessment:

i. Types of rapid assessments. Rapid assessments can range from desk studies, expert group meetings and workshops to field surveys. They can include compiling existing expert knowledge and information, including traditional knowledge and information, and field survey approaches.

ii. Assessments can be divided into three stages: design/preparation, implementation, and reporting. "Rapidity" should apply to each of these stages. Rapid assessments provide the necessary results in the shortest practicable time, even though preparatory and planning work prior to the survey may be time-consuming. In some circumstances (for example, when taking seasonality into account) there may be a delay between the decision to undertake the assessment and carrying it out. In other cases (for example, in cases of disturbances and disasters), the assessment will be undertaken as a matter of urgency, and preparation time should be kept to a minimum.

iii. Inventory, assessment and monitoring. It is important to distinguish between inventory, assessment, and monitoring (see Box 1) when designing data-gathering exercises, as they require different types of information. Baseline wetland inventory provides the basis for guiding the development of appropriate assessment and monitoring. Wetland inventories repeated at intervals do not automatically constitute "monitoring".

iv. Rapid assessment entails speed, but it can be expensive. Costs will increase particularly when assessing remote areas, large spatial scales, high topographic resolution, and/or a large number of types of features. Undertaking an assessment rapidly can mean a higher cost owing to the need, for example, to mobilize large field teams simultaneously and support them.

v. Spatial scale. Rapid assessments can be undertaken at a wide range of spatial scales. In general, a large-scale rapid assessment will consist of the application of a standard method to a larger number of localities or sampling stations.

vi. Compilation of existing data/access to data. Before determining whether further field-based assessment is required, it is an important first step to compile and assess as much relevant existing data and information as readily available. This part of the assessment should establish what data and information exists, and whether it is accessible. Data sources can include geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing information sources, published and unpublished data, and traditional knowledge and information accessed through the contribution, as appropriate, of local and indigenous people. Such compilation should be used as a "gap analysis" to determine whether the purpose of the assessment can be satisfied from existing information or whether a new field survey is required.

vii. For any new data and information collected during a subsequent rapid assessment field survey, it is essential to create an audit trail to the data, including any specimens of biota collected, through the establishment of a proper metadata record for the assessment.

viii. Reliability of rapid assessment data. In all instances of rapid assessment of biological diversity it is particularly important that all outputs and results include information on the confidence associated with the findings. Where practical, error propagation through the analysis of data and information should be evaluated to provide an overall estimate of confidence in the final results of the assessment.

ix. Dissemination of results. A vital component of any rapid assessment is the fast, clear and open dissemination of its results to a range of stakeholders, decision-makers and local communities. It is essential to provide this information to each group in an appropriate form of presentation and appropriate level of detail.

Box 1. Ramsar definitions of inventory, assessment and monitoring

Ramsar COP8 has adopted, in Resolution VIII.6, the following definitions of wetland inventory, assessment and monitoring:

Inventory: The collection and/or collation of core information for inland water management, including the provision of an information base for specific assessment and monitoring activities.

Assessment: The identification of the status of, and threats to, inland waters as a basis for the collection of more specific information through monitoring activities.

Monitoring: Collection of specific information for management purposes in response to hypotheses derived from assessment activities, and the use of these monitoring results for implementing management. (Note that the collection of time-series information that is not hypothesis-driven from wetland assessment should be termed surveillance rather than monitoring, as outlined in Ramsar Resolution VI.1.)

Note that "inventory" under this definition covers baseline inventory, but in many cases, depending on specific purpose, priorities and needs, can include not only core biophysical data but also data on management features which provide "assessment" information, although this may also require more extensive data collection and analyses.

5. When is rapid assessment appropriate?

20. Rapid assessment is one of a suite of tools and responses that Parties can use for assessing wetlands. Not all types of data and information needed for full wetland inventory and assessment can be collected through rapid assessment methods. However, it is generally possible to collect some initial information on all generally used inventory and assessment core data fields, although for some, rapid assessment can only yield preliminary results with a low level of confidence. Such types of data and information can, however, be used to identify where more detailed follow-up assessments may be needed if resources permit.

21. A summary of core data fields for inventory and assessment of biophysical and management features of wetlands, derived from that in Ramsar Resolution VIII.6, and the general quality of information for each which can be gathered through rapid assessment, is provided in Table 1.

Table 1. Adequacy of data and information quality which can at least partly be collected through "rapid assessment" field survey methods for wetland inventory and assessment core data fields for biophysical and management features of wetlands. (Derived from Ramsar Resolution VIII.6)

Biophysical features

Adequacy of data quality collected through “rapid assessment”

·               Site name (official name of site and catchment)


·               Area and boundary (size and variation, range and average values) *


·               Location (projection system, map coordinates, map centroid, elevation) *


·               Geomorphic setting (where it occurs within the landscape, linkage with other aquatic habitat, biogeographical region) *


·               General description (shape, cross-section and plan view)


·               Climate – zone and major features


·               Soil (structure and colour)


·               Water regime (e.g. periodicity, extent of flooding and depth, source of surface water and links with groundwater)


·               Water chemistry (e.g. salinity, pH, colour, transparency, nutrients)


·               Biota (vegetation zones and structure, animal populations and distribution, special features including rare/endangered species)


Management features


·               Land use – local, and in the river basin and/or coastal zone


·               Pressures on the wetland – within the wetland and in the river basin and/or coastal zone


·               Land tenure and administrative authority – for the wetland, and for critical parts of the river basin and/or coastal zone


·               Conservation and management status of the wetland – including legal instruments and social or cultural traditions that influence the management of the wetland


·               Ecosystem values and benefits/services derived from the wetland – including products, functions and attributes and, where possible, their benefits/services to human well-being


·               Management plans and monitoring programmes – in place and planned within the inland water and in the river basin and/or coastal zone


* These features can usually be derived from topographical maps or remotely sensed images, especially aerial photographs.

22. Addressing socio-economic and cultural features of biodiversity. This guidance chiefly covers assessment of the biotic components of biological diversity. For many assessment purposes, it is also important to collect information on socio-economic and cultural features of biological diversity, although full economic valuation assessment is generally well outside the scope of rapid assessment. Nevertheless, as part of a rapid inventory assessment or risk assessment it may be useful to compile an initial indication of which socio-economic and cultural features are of relevance in the survey site. This can provide an indication of the likely changes to the natural resource base, and may be used to indicate which features should be the subject of more detailed follow-up assessment.

23. For an indicative list of the socio-economic benefits/services of inland waters which are derived from biological diversity, see annex II of UNEP/CBD/SBSTTA/8/8/Add. 3. For further information on ecosystem benefits/services, see also the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment's Ecosystems and Human Well-being (Island Press, 2003).

24. Cultural functions and values of inland waters (derived from Ramsar COP8 DOC. 15, Cultural aspects of wetlands) that should be taken into account include:

a) Palaeontological and archaeological records;
b) Historic buildings and artefacts;
c) Cultural landscapes;
d) Traditional production and agro-ecosystems, e.g., ricefields, salinas, exploited estuaries;
e) Collective water and land management practices;
f) Self-management practices, including customary rights and tenure;
g) Traditional techniques for exploiting wetland resources;
h) Oral traditions;
i) Traditional knowledge;
j) Religious aspects, beliefs and mythology;
k) "The arts" - music, song, dance, painting, literature and cinema.

25. Assessing threats to wetland biodiversity. In many rapid assessments it will not be possible fully to assess the threats to, or pressures on, biological diversity. Nevertheless, as for socio-economic and cultural features, it may be useful, for identifying where the focus of any further assessment may be needed, to make a provisional assessment of threat categories. For this purpose, a checklist of threat categories such as that being developed by the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) as part of their Species Information Service (SIS) may be helpful (see

6. Rapid assessment in relation to monitoring

26. Hypothesis-based research for monitoring purposes needed for management of systems may require more comprehensive tools and methodologies than rapid assessment can provide. However, some rapid methods, although originally developed for monitoring, can equally be applied for the purposes of rapid assessment. Similarly, certain rapid assessment tools/methodologies can also be applied for longer term hypothesis-driven monitoring by repeated surveys. This can be a particularly valuable technique for addressing seasonality issues.

27. Rapid assessment and trends in biological diversity. Rapid assessment designed to assess trends in biological diversity implies that more than one repeat survey will be required. For gathering such information, regular time-series data may be necessary, and in such circumstances this can be considered as rapid assessment if each survey is undertaken using a rapid assessment method, although the resulting overall assessment will generally take shape over a longer time period.

28. Seasonality. Most rapid assessments involve a single "snapshot" survey of a locality. However, the seasonality of many wetlands and of the biota dependent upon them (for example, migratory species) means that surveys of different taxa may need to be made at different times of year. The timing of a rapid assessment in relation to seasonality is a critically important issue to take into account if the assessment is to yield reliable results.

29. Other types of temporal variations in inland wetlands may also need to be taken into account, notably variations in flow regimes of different types of inland water ecosystems, which may include:

a) perennial systems which experience surface flow throughout the year and do not cease to flow during droughts;
b) seasonal systems which experience flow predictably during the annual wet season but may be dry for several months each year;
c) episodic (periodic or intermittent) systems, which experience flow for an extended period but are not predictable or seasonal. These systems usually have flow contribution from rainfall as well as groundwater. At times, surface flow may occur in some segments only, with subsurface flow in other segments. The fauna can differ considerably depending on the duration of flow, colonization succession of different species, proximity of other water sources, and extent of time during which previous flow occurred; or
d) ephemeral (short-lived) systems, which experience flow briefly and rarely and return to dry conditions in between. Their flow is usually sourced entirely from precipitation. Only aquatic biota able to complete their life cycles very rapidly (within a few days) are able to exploit such flow conditions.

7. Special considerations relating to small island states

30. Priority types of rapid assessment in small island states. Given the importance of often limited inland wetlands in small island states, the importance of their coastal and marine systems, a general lack of information about their biodiversity, and limited institutional capacity, rapid assessment methods are particularly valuable in small island states. Priority purposes of assessment include:

a) qualitative and quantitative aspects of water quality and quantity;
b) causes of biodiversity loss and water pollution, including deforestation, pesticide flows, and other unsustainable exploitation; and
c) pressures of unsustainable land uses (e.g., tourism, agriculture, fisheries, industry).

31. FAO has provided detailed information on the more important fisheries and aquaculture issues in small island developing states (see and also operates the Fisheries Global Information System ( The Plan of Action on Agriculture in Small Island Developing States also recognizes the particular fisheries needs of small island developing states and provides guidance on the sustainable management of inland water and other natural resources.

8. A conceptual framework for rapid assessment

32. This conceptual framework is derived from, and consistent with, the Ramsar Framework for Wetland Inventory (Resolution VIII.6). Certain modifications concerning the sequence and titling of its steps have been made to take account of the specific element of minimizing time scales which is inherent in rapid assessment.

33. The process of applying the conceptual framework is summarized in Figure 1. Steps in the conceptual framework and guidance for the application of each step are listed in Table 2.

34. The framework is designed to provide guidance for planning and undertaking the initial wetland rapid assessment. Follow-up assessments, and those for new areas using a proven procedure and method, need not go through the entire process, although a review of methodology should be undertaken in relation to possible differences in local conditions such as different wetland ecosystem types.

35. In assessments undertaken in response to an emergency, e.g., a natural or human-induced disaster, the steps of the conceptual framework should be followed as far as possible. However, it is recognized that under such circumstances the need for a very rapid response can mean that shortcuts in applying the framework may be essential (see also paragraph 53 of this guidance).

Figure 1. Summary of the key steps in applying the conceptual framework for rapid assessment (see Table 2 for further details).

Table 2. Conceptual framework steps for designing and implementing a rapid assessment of wetland biodiversity



1.     State the purpose and objective

State the reason(s) for undertaking the rapid assessment: why the information is required, and by whom it is required.

a.    Determine scale and resolution

Determine the geographical scale and resolution required to achieve the purpose and objective.

b.    Define a core or minimum data set

Identify the core, or minimum, data set sufficient to describe the location and size of the inland water(s) and any special features. This can be complemented by additional information on factors affecting the ecological character of the wetland and other management issues, if required.

2.     Review existing knowledge and information – identify gaps (if done, write report, if not, design study)

Review available information sources and peoples’ knowledge (including scientists, stakeholders, and local and indigenous communities), using desk-studies, workshops, etc., so as to determine the extent of knowledge and information available for inland water biodiversity in the region being considered. Include all available data sources1; and prioritize sites2.

3.     Study design


a.    Review existing assessment methods, and choose appropriate method

Review available methods and seek expert technical advice as needed, to choose the methods that can supply the required information. Apply Table 3 (rapid assessment types for different purposes),  and then choose appropriate field survey methods.

b.    Establish a habitat classification system where needed

Choose a habitat classification that suits the purpose of the assessment, since there is no single classification that has been globally accepted.

c.    Establish a time schedule

Establish a time schedule for: a) planning the assessment; b) collecting, processing and interpreting the data collected; and c) reporting the results.

d.    Establish the level of resources required, assess the feasibility & cost-effectiveness that are required

Establish the extent and reliability of the resources available for the assessment. If necessary make contingency plans to ensure that data are not lost due to insufficiency of resources.

Assess whether or not the programme, including reporting of the results, can be undertaken within under the current institutional, financial and staff situation.

Determine if the costs of data acquisition and analysis are within budget and that a budget is available for the programme to be completed. [Where appropriate, plan a regular review of the programme.]

e.    Establish a data management system and a specimen curating system

Establish clear protocols for collecting, recording and storing data, including archiving in electronic or hardcopy formats.

Ensure adequate specimen curating. This should enable future users to determine the source of the data, and its accuracy and reliability, and to access reference collections.

At this stage it is also necessary to identify suitable data analysis methods. All data analysis should be done by rigorous and tested methods and all information documented. The data management system should support, rather than constrain, the data analysis.

A meta-database should be used to: a) record information about the inventory datasets; and b) outline details of data custodianship and access by other users. Use existing international standards (refer to the Ramsar Wetland Inventory Framework – Resolution VIII.6)

f.     Establish a reporting procedure

Establish a procedure for interpreting and reporting all results in a timely and cost effective manner.

The reporting should be concise, indicate whether or not the objective has been achieved, and contain recommendations for management action, including whether further data or information is required.

g.    Establish a review and evaluation process

Establish a formal and open review process to ensure the effectiveness of all procedures, including reporting and, when required, supply information to adjust the assessment process.

4.    Perform study and include continuous assessment of methodology (go back and revise design if needed)

Undertake study method. Test and adjust the method and specialist equipment being used, assess the training needs for staff involved, and confirm the means of collating, collecting, entering, analysing and interpreting the data. In particular, ensure that any remote sensing can be supported by appropriate “ground-truth” survey.

5.    Data assessment and reporting (was purpose of the study achieved? If not, go back to step 3)

Undertake a formal and open review process to ensure the effectiveness of all procedures, including reporting and, when required, supply information to adjust or even terminate the program.

Results should be provided in appropriate styles and level of detail to, inter alia, local authorities, local communities and other stakeholders, local and national decision-makers, donors and the scientific community.

1 It is important to include identification not just of local data and information but also other relevant national and international sources, which can provide supplementary data and information to underpin the rapid assessment (for example, the UNEP-GEMS/Water programme for water quality and quantity).
2 IUCN has developed a methodology for prioritizing important sites for conservation of biodiversity of inland waters. See for further information.

Choosing rapid assessment types and outputs for different purposes

36. The primary purpose of this guidance is to be a practical reference for deciding on appropriate methods for the rapid assessment of wetland ecosystems. Table 3 provides a schematic guide to a number of available methods used for rapid assessment of wetland ecosystems. It is meant to enable the selection of appropriate assessment methods, based on a structured framework of selection criteria. These are organized in a progression of the most important factors of assessment of wetlands. Further information on rapid assessment data collection and analysis methods are provided in Appendices 1 and 2, and further consolidated information for wetlands on choices of rapid assessment methods in relation to different resource limitations (particularly of time, money and/or expertise) and the scope of the assessment will be provided in a forthcoming Ramsar Technical Report (separate detailed guidance for inland waters and for coastal and marine systems is also available in the CBD materials (CBD/SBSTTA/8/INF/5 and CBD/SBSTTA/8/INF/13 respectively)).

37. Choosing an appropriate method for the rapid assessment purpose should begin with the most basic and broad elements of an assessment, and then advance through progressively more selective criteria. Eventually a general framework of the necessary assessment should emerge, taking the amalgamated form defined by its purpose, output information, available resources, and scope. The idea is to meld informational parameters, like output and purpose, with logistical parameters such as time frame, available funding, and geographical scope, in order to present a realistic assessment model and determine what methods are available for its implementation.

38. Defining the purpose is the first step of an assessment. Table 3 provides three general purposes corresponding to five specific purposes, which will determine the assessment type. The five specific assessment types used in the decision tree are: baseline inventory, specific-species assessment, change assessment, indicator assessment, resource assessment. The assessment types are explained in detail below.

39. Once the purpose and assessment type have been determined, a step-wise approach should be taken through the more specific components of the assessment. These include the resource limitations and scope of the various elements of the assessment. This section begins with an appraisal of the resources available for the assessment. Time, money, and expertise are the critical resource components considered in the tree; availability of or limitations on these resources will determine the scope and capacity of any rapid assessment. There are then six more specific parameters (taxa, geography, site selection, methods, data collection, analysis) to consider in determining the scope of each of those relative to the resource limitations of the assessment. Variable combinations of resource limitations and scope criteria give shape to the assessment project.


40. The approach starts with the supposition that any rapid wetland assessment ought to be performed with the overriding goals of conservation and wise use in mind. The methods used should augment knowledge and understanding in order to establish a baseline of wetland biological diversity, assess changes in, or the health of, wetland ecosystems, and support the sustainable use of the wetland resource. There are five specific reasons within this context to undertake a rapid assessment of wetlands. These cover the breadth of possible reasons for rapid assessment:

a) Collect general biodiversity data in order to inventory and prioritize wetland species, communities and ecosystems. Obtain baseline biodiversity information for a given area.
b) Gather information on the status of a focus or target species (such as threatened species). Collect data pertaining to the conservation of a specific species.
c) Gain information on the effects of human or natural disturbance (changes) on a given area or species.
d) Gather information that is indicative of the general ecosystem health or condition of a specific wetland ecosystem. And
e) Determine the potential for sustainable use of biological resources in a particular wetland ecosystem.

41. The five purposes are numbered according to the assessment type to which they correspond. The columns in Table 3 are related to the three objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Columns I and II (Inventory assessment and species assessment) are related to the conservation of biodiversity. Columns III, IV and V (Change, indicator, and resource assessments) address sustainable use while column V (Resource assessment) also refers to the equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.

Table 3. Rapid Assessment types and possible outputs for different purposes

General purpose

Biodiversity baseline

Disturbance and ecosystem health

Resource sustainability and economics

Specific purposes

Baseline inventory; prioritization; conservation; identification

Conservation of specific species; status of alien species

Change detection

Overall ecosystem health or condition

Sustainable use of biological resources

Assessment type

Baseline inventory

Species-specific assessment



Indicator assessment

Resource assessment

Types of data and analyses possible

1.Species lists/inventories.

2. Habitat type lists/inventories.

3. Limited data on population size/ structure, community structure and function, and species interactions

4. Abundances, distribution patterns, and ranges.

5. Genetic information.

6. Important species: threatened, endangered, endemics, migratory,

invasive alien species, other significance: cultural, scientific, economic, nutritional, social.

7. Diversity indices.

8. Water quality data.

9. Hydrological information.

1. Status of a focal species: distribution, abundance, population size/ structure, genetic, health, size, species interactions, nesting, breeding and feeding information.

2. Ecological data on focal species; habitat, symbionts, predators, prey etc.

3. Threats to focal species and habitats.

4. Life history table.

5. Water quality data.

6. Hydrological information.

1. Monitoring data.

2. Effects of an activity or disturbance on habitat/species/ communities: diversity loss, genetic issues, habitat changes or loss.

3. Monitor impacts.

4. Determine changes in ecological character.

5. Impact reduction options.

6. Biotic indices.

7. Habitat indices.

8. Water quality data.

9. Hydrological information.

10. Early warning indicators.


1. Data on health or condition of inland water systems.

2. Water quality data.

3. Hydrological information.

4. Biological parameters.

5. Biotic indices.



1. Presence, status and condition of economically, culturally, nutritionally, and socially important species.

2. Information on sustainability of use of a species.

3. Limited monitoring data: stock assessment data, habitat status.

4. Limited information relevant to resource management.

5. Water quality data.

6. Hydrological information.


May also depend on:


Inventory assessment

Inventory assessment (recommended)


Species-specific assessment

Assessment types

42. In order to choose an adequate method for the assessment of wetland biodiversity, five types of rapid assessment are recognized that apply to wetlands. These assessment types vary according to the purpose and desired output of a particular assessment project. Each assessment type has specific outputs and applies to specific purposes. It is therefore important to determine the goals and overall purpose of any assessment relating to diversity, conservation, and management. Any particular project, defined by its purpose and output goals, should fall within the range of one or more of these five assessment types. The assessment types are briefly described below.

Baseline Inventory

43. Baseline inventories focus on overall biological diversity rather than extensive or detailed information about specific taxa or habitats. The goal is to gather as much information as possible about the wetland ecosystem through extensive and, as much as possible, comprehensive sampling of its biological constituents and related features (see also Ramsar Wise Use Handbook 10, Wetland Inventory). Species and habitat type lists are likely to be the most important form of data, but other relevant baseline data could include: species richness, abundances, relative population sizes, distribution and ranges, cultural significance in addition to biodiversity significance, and other relevant biological information pertaining to water quality (see e.g. DePauw & Vanhooren 1983 and USGS National water quality assessment program on, hydrology and ecosystem health. Data on geography, geology, climate, and habitat are also important. Local communities can be a valuable source of information concerning species richness of a habitat. For example, through community and consumption surveys information can be gathered in a short time span.

44. A full species baseline inventory involves an intense sampling effort to take inventory of the species present in an area. This inventory can then be used to determine the conservation value of an area in terms of its biodiversity. The goal is to sample as many sites and list as many species as possible in the short amount of time allotted for the assessment. Ideally, the species lists would correspond to specific sampling sites within the survey area. Separate lists of species for each taxonomic group observed/collected at each sampling site are useful in order to distinguish among different habitats and localities in the survey area. Taxonomic data would likely include sampling of fish, plankton, epiphytic and benthic invertebrates, aquatic and terrestrial plants, and algae.

45. Wetland habitat types can be inventoried through field survey or analysis of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote-sensing data (see also Appendices II and III of the Ramsar "Framework for Wetland Inventory" (Resolution VIII.6); and the planned Ramsar Technical Report "Guidance for GIS applications for wetland inventory, assessment and monitoring"). To inventory habitat types in the field, several sites need to be sampled in order to get a range of habitat types of the area and the ecological gradations within it. If GIS is available, classification of wetland habitat types is possible using spatial data such as elevation, physiography, and vegetative cover. Ideally, information gathered during the assessment on wetland species and ecosystems should be geo-referenced.

46. A baseline inventory provides initial information about a defined area of interest. The output information could be useful in prioritizing species or areas of particular concern for conservation, identifying new species, and developing a broad view of the overall biodiversity of an area. For conservation and management, this information is especially pertinent in the prioritization of species and areas. Prioritized species should then be assessed according to species-specific assessment methods. If localities or habitats are prioritized for particular human stresses on them, then they should be considered for assessment according to the change assessment methods.

47. Possible outputs from an inventory assessment include:


  • Baseline wetland biodiversity data: species lists/inventories, habitat type lists/inventories, limited data on population size/structure, abundances, distributional patterns and ranges
  • Ecological data pertaining to the area: important wetland habitats, communities and their relationships
  • Background information on geology, geography, water quality, hydrology, climate, and habitat zones for greater ecological context


  • Species prioritization: identify and prioritize any species of special concern or interest
  • Area/habitat prioritization: identify and describe important habitats or areas
  • Conservation recommendations
  • Basic data and diversity indices (see also Appendix 1)

Species-specific assessment

48. A species-specific assessment provides a rapid appraisal of the status of a particular wetland species or taxonomic group in a given area. The assessment provides more detailed biological information about the focus species within the context of its protection, use, or eradication (e.g., in the case of invasive species Thus, this assessment type generally pertains to ecologically or economically important species and can provide rapid information about an important species in an area where its status is unknown or of particular interest. Likewise, the assessment can be used to confirm the status of species as threatened, endangered, or stable in a certain area (if the assessment is repeated more than once).

49. Possible outputs from a species-specific assessment include:


  • Data pertaining to the status of focal species: distribution, abundance, population size/structure, genetics, health, size, nesting, breeding and feeding information
  • Ecology and behaviour, information pertaining to focal species: habitat, range, symbionts, predators, prey, reproductive and breeding information


  • Conservation recommendations
  • Identification of economic possibilities/interests
  • Identification of threats and stresses to focal species and habitat
  • Assessment of status of alien species
  • Habitat classifications and similarity/comparative indices (see Appendix 1)

Change assessment

50. Often an assessment is needed in order to determine the effects of human activities (pollution, physical alterations, etc.) or natural disturbances (storms, exceptional drought, etc.) on the ecological integrity of a wetland area. The information collected in this type of assessment can be either retrospective or predictive in nature. Such predictive assessments are often undertaken in Environmental Impact Assessment of projects (see also Ramsar Wise Use Handbook 11, Impact assessment).

51. A retrospective approach aims to assess actual disturbances or alterations of various projects or management practices as they apply to biodiversity and biological integrity. In terms of biodiversity, this approach can be difficult without pre-disturbance (baseline) data for comparison, and it may therefore require trend analyses or the use of reference sites or environmental quality standards (EQS). Reference sites are areas of the same region that parallel the pre-disturbance condition of the impacted area in order to provide data for comparative analysis.

52. Four approaches to rapid assessment of change can be distinguished:

a) Comparing two or more different sites at the same time;
b) Comparing the same site at different times (trends);
c) Comparing the impacted site to a reference site;
d) Comparing the observed status to environmental quality standards. Most existing rapid assessment methods are designed for this purpose; some of these (either biological, physical-chemical or eco-toxicological) may also be used as "early warning indicators" (see also Ramsar's risk assessment guidance - Annex to Resolution VII.10 & Ramsar Wise Use Handbook 8: Section E; and guidance on vulnerability assessment [Ramsar Technical Report]).

53. Rapid change assessment methods can be particularly helpful for assessing the impacts of natural (and other) disasters such as floods, storm surges, and tsunamis. Several methods for the rapid assessment of coastal wetland systems for the aftermath of disasters have been developed specifically as response tools for the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004. These include:

i) A "Field protocol for the rapid assessment of coastal ecosystems following natural disasters", using a coastal transect approach to assess if certain types of wetlands, (including mangroves and coral reefs, tidal flats, and saltmarshes) measurably reduced the damaging effects of the tsunami on people and infrastructure and to determine how wetland benefits/services and ecological restoration can help to recover lost livelihoods (available on:; and

ii) "Guidelines for Rapid Assessment and Monitoring of Tsunami Damage to Coral Reefs", prepared by the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) and the International Society for Reef Studies (ICRS) (available on: tsunami_2004/coral_ass.htm; and

54. A predictive approach would assess the potential consequences of a particular project, such as a dam or development, and also establish a baseline of biodiversity data for long-term monitoring of the changes. This approach allows for "before and after" assessment data, as well as for identification of species and habitat areas likely to be affected by the impending changes. Comparative analysis of areas where changes have already occurred can be used to predict potential impacts. This is the field of environmental impact assessment (EIA) (see also Ramsar Resolution VIII.9 and Ramsar Wise Use Handbook 11), trend- and scenario-analysis, and modelling (in terms of predictions). It relies to a large extent on the results of a retrospective approach, specifically early warning indictors. There is a direct link between the predictive approach and policy responses. However, most of these methods are not generally very "rapid".

55. Special attention must be paid to changes at a biological community level, which may occur even when habitat conditions remain the same. This is the case with fast-spreading pioneer species adapted to the post-disturbance ecological conditions, which replace naturally occurring species. This presents a difficult question concerning the condition of the system, which may become more species-rich compared to its ecological history. The situation is especially complex when new species are considered more desirable than those that made up the original ecological system. Change assessment outputs are grouped below depending on whether they pertain to existing or potential changes.

56. Possible outputs from a change assessment include:


  • Baseline biodiversity data for long-term monitoring of changes. Species lists, abundances, distribution, densities
  • Geology, geography, water quality, hydrology, climate, and habitat information pertinent to the particular impact on the greater ecological context of the area
  • Basic information for wetland risk assessment and EIA, and
  • Data on specific taxa, changes in water quality, hydrological alterations and habitat structure (requires baseline or reference site data)


  • Identify and prioritize species and communities within the impact range
  • Identify and prioritize important habitats within the impact range
  • Predict potential impacts through comparison of existing impacts in similar sites
  • Determine effects of human pressures and natural stresses on biodiversity and habitat structure
  • Identify specific pressures and stresses related to impact
  • Identify possible management practices to mitigate pressures and stresses
  • Make conservation recommendations
  • Determine biotic indices, scores and multimetrics (see Appendix 1; and Fausch et al. 1984; Goldstein et al. 2002; and Karr 1981)

Indicator Assessment

57. An indicator assessment assumes that biological diversity, in terms of species and community diversity, can tell us a great deal about the water quality, hydrology and overall health of particular ecosystems. Biomonitoring is often associated with this type of assessment - this traditionally refers to the use of biological indicators to monitor levels of toxicity and chemical content, but recently this type of approach has been more broadly applied to monitoring the overall health of a system rather than its physical and chemical parameters alone (see Nixon et al. 1996). The presence or absence of certain chemical or biological indicators can reflect environmental conditions. Taxonomic groups, individual species, groups of species, or entire communities can be used as indicators. Typically, benthic macro-invertebrates, fish, and algae are used as organismic indicators (see Rosenberg & Resh 1993; Troychak 1997). It is therefore possible to use species presence/absence, and in some instances abundances and habitat characteristics, to assess the condition of wetland ecosystems.

58. Possible outputs from an indicator assessment include:


  • Presence/absence/abundance of species or taxa
  • Taxonomic diversity
  • Physical/chemical data (e.g., pH/conductivity/turbidity/O2/salinity)


  • Assess the overall health or condition of a given inland water ecosystem
  • Assess water quality and hydrological status
  • Make conservation recommendations
  • Indices of diversity and ecosystem health, habitat classification, physical-chemical assessment methods and basic data on biological assessment (see Appendix 1 for further details on biomonitoring indices)

Resource assessment

59. A resource assessment aims to determine the potential for sustainable use of biological resources in a given area or water system. Data pertain to the presence, status and condition of economically important species, species on which livelihoods depend, or those with a potential market value. Ideally a resource assessment can facilitate the development of ecologically sustainable development as an alternative to destructive or unsustainable activities.

60. Thus, a major objective of the resource assessment is to develop or determine sustainable use practices as viable economic options in areas with rich biological resources. For this reason, an important factor of resource assessment is the full involvement of local communities and governments, for example through community biodiversity surveys (see NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service 2002). This is especially important in relation to the needs, capacity and expectations of all involved parties. This integrative approach is important to the successful implementation of any sustainable harvesting system. Another extension of a resource assessment may be to provide baseline information used to monitor the health of fisheries and other resources.

61. The use of methods for the economic valuation of wetlands are highly relevant to resource assessment, and a number of such methods can be considered as "rapid". (Further information on available wetland economic valuation methods is available in a forthcoming Ramsar Technical Report and in the Ramsar publication Economic Valuation of Wetlands: a Guide for Policy Makers and Planners (1997).

62. Possible outputs from a resource assessment include:


  • Determine the presence, status and condition of socio-economically important species
  • Identify important parties
  • Identify interests, capacity, and expectations of all involved parties
  • Collect baseline monitoring data such as stock assessments, and
  • Assess the socio-economic consequences of different resource management options.


  • Fishery and other aquatic resources sustainability, habitat status, stock assessments, information for fishermen/resource users
  • Options for sustainable development and recommendations for management.

9. Design considerations

A. Resources

63. The methods available for rapid wetland biodiversity assessment are contingent on the purpose and output of specific projects. Equally important is a consideration of available resources and limitations, especially as they apply to the scope of the assessment. Time, money and expertise are resource limitations that determine the methodologies available to a particular assessment project. Furthermore, they define the project in terms of its scope in the following areas: taxa, geography, site selection, analysis, data, and sampling methods. These are important components of a wetland biodiversity assessment, and the scope or capacity of each vary depending on the project needs and its resource limitations.

64. Time, money and expertise are the key factors to consider in a rapid wetland biodiversity assessment. In abundance, these resources allow for a great deal of flexibility, while insufficiency limits nearly all aspects of a potential assessment project. However, in some cases abundance in one area can compensate for limitations in another. The availability of these resources will, to a large extent, determine the scope and capabilities of the assessment.

i) Time

65. Time is a fundamental consideration for any rapid assessment.

66. Scientifically, long-term monitoring and research offer statistical advantages over rapid assessment. With these, more detailed and thorough sampling is possible, which can measure change over time and produce more statistically rigorous results. However, the short time frame implicit in a rapid assessment is what makes this type of survey appealing; it allows for a snapshot or overview allowing fast judgment about the condition of an area. Thus, rapid assessment can provide information when informed decisions need to be taken urgently. Rapid assessment can also be a good way to establish baseline data that can then be used for further study if warranted. The amount of time available for the assessment is an important resource, and adequate planning should determine how it will be spent. Rapid assessment can never replace long-term monitoring and research.

67. There is flexibility in the definition of "rapid" but the term implies that time is of the essence. The time frames for rapid assessment are broadly based on typical lengths of rapid assessments and are separated as follows: short (1-7 days), medium (8-30 days), and long (30+ days). This refers to the amount of time to complete the entire project from start to finish, including transport, data collection, and preliminary analysis. Final analysis and results may take more time, but preliminary conclusions are important and need to be available quickly - otherwise the purpose of a rapid assessment is lost.

ii) Money

68. The amount of funding available for an assessment will, along with time, determine the capabilities and scope of a rapid wetland assessment. Because monetary amounts are relative, and broad categories cannot account for the fluid nature of currency values, a simple categorization is used. This is not based on values or actual monetary amounts, but rather on the relative amount of funding available to carry out the assessment. Therefore, the available capital for a given assessment is either limited, meaning that it can be considered limiting, or less than the amount desired to carry out the objectives of the project, or ample, meaning that there is enough money to carry out all elements of the assessment in a scientifically sound and usable way.

iii) Expertise

69. An expert is someone who, for example, can identify specimens of a taxonomic group to the species level, is familiar with current sampling and collection methods, can analyse data, and is familiar with the taxonomic group within a larger biological and ecological context. It does not refer to people with a general understanding or basic knowledge in the field. It is important to determine the availability of experts on a local, regional and international level. Local expertise is a great resource when it is available. Often local experts will have a good understanding of local geography, ecology, and community issues. However, if there is no local expert, an expert from outside the locality or region may need to be brought in. In highly specialized cases there may only be a small number of people, or even just one person, who can be considered an expert in the area of study.

70. Institutional support refers to the use of technical facilities for analysis, storage of data, and other forms of support. Determination of the available expertise should include a consideration of the institutional support that is available, as this may present a limitation to the capacity and scope of any project. In deciding on what form of rapid assessment is feasible, it is important to determine whether individuals who are experts in the field of study (including local experts) are or are not available for the assessment project.

B. Scope

71. The scope requires a consideration of the scale of various elements of an assessment. How much area does the assessment cover? How many species will be sampled? How much data will be collected? How many sites will be sampled?

72. In general the scope of a rapid assessment is contingent upon the purpose and resources of the assessment. Ample resources allow for proportional increases in the scope of various parts of an assessment. It is difficult to have an extensive geographic scope for a two-day assessment on a tight budget. In this respect some aspects of the scope are related to one another as well. For example, it could be possible to survey a broad geographic area in two days if the scope of the site selection and data collection were both highly reduced. In general, if the resources for an assessment are ample, the scope becomes entirely dependent on the purpose and objectives of the project.

73. The scope of an assessment can vary internally in the following areas: taxa, geography, site selection, sampling, and data analysis. Each of these should be considered separately. For example, a given assessment project may have a broad geographical scope, covering an expansive area, while the taxonomic scope could be quite focused, concentrating on a limited number of taxonomic groups.

i) Taxonomic scope

74. The taxonomic scope depends upon how many and which taxonomic groups will be involved in the study. Some surveys may focus solely on aquatic invertebrates, while others may include several taxonomic groups. Typically the purpose of the assessment will determine which groups are pertinent to the study, as certain taxonomic groups will be more or less useful in certain assessment types. For example, benthic macro-invertebrates are often used in impact assessments of rivers and streams because they are sensitive to water conditions and are relatively easy to sample. Some types of aquatic mammals or bird species are also affected by changes in water conditions, but they are more difficult to sample and are not good indicators of these changes since the response is more subtle and takes place over a longer time frame.

75. It is important to consider that in any given assessment, certain species or taxonomic groups will be more easily sampled than others. The cost (in terms of time and money) of including a taxonomic group that is particularly difficult to survey must be weighed against the benefits of including that group. In some cases it may be better to forego certain groups if time and money would be better spent on other groups. Related to this is the relative size of the taxonomic group involved. In a given area, the taxonomic scope of a survey of, for example, caddisflies (Trichoptera) may be greater than a survey focusing on aquatic mammals, birds and fish species.

ii) Geographic scope

76. The geographic scope of an assessment depends upon the taxonomic groups involved and/or the size of the area relevant to the project. The geographic scope can vary depending upon the range of a particular species, the extent of a particular ecosystem or habitat, or the area affected by an impact. This could range from small microhabitats such as a specific sediment type or it may extend across relatively large geographical areas, such as entire watersheds, lake systems, basins or coastal zones.

77. The geographic scope will also vary depending on how large an area must be studied in order to obtain statistically sound data. Therefore, it is important to determine the geographic scope in terms of the range or size of the surveyed area, and also the number of habitats to be studied. The ability to assess these different levels of geographic scope is dependent on the resources available to the project.

iii) Site selection

78. Site selection refers to the number and type of wetland sites needed for the assessment. As for geographic scope, site selection is highly dependent on other aspects of the assessment. A baseline inventory requires a relatively broad assessment of the biodiversity at several sites with variable habitats. A species-specific assessment would concentrate on habitats used by the target species and may forego several sampling sites in order to provide greater depth of study in fewer sites. Site selection for an impact assessment would concentrate on sites associated with the impact in question. Resource-assessment sites focus on areas that could be used for exploitation. An indicator assessment would include as many sites as are needed to produce the necessary data.

79. In considering the type of sites to be selected, one possible question is whether sites should be chosen by virtue of being characteristic or distinct. Characteristic sites are representative of the typical habitat of a given area. However, in most areas, habitat is not continuous, and localized gradations in habitat create a mosaic of related but distinct communities that grade into one another. Selecting distinct sites allows for surveys of these unique and specialized habitats.

80. Choosing between distinct versus representative habitats often depends on the resources and purpose of the assessment. If time is short, it may be best to quickly survey representative areas in order to get a good general picture of the situation before trying to assess more unique sites. If more time is available, and the purpose is to survey as many species as possible, or to describe habitat types, then distinctive habitats may deserve more attention.

81. Consideration should also be given to site accessibility, taking into account factors such as remoteness, restrictions due to land use (e.g. military zones), land tenure, susceptibility to flood/fire events, and seasonal/weather conditions.

C. Sampling and data analysis

82. The type of sampling method used is determined according to the objective of the assessment and should be more or less the same for all nations, including small island states. The sampling methods used will vary according to the need to be standardized, whether they can or cannot be technical, the time limitations, and the type of equipment available. Most importantly, the methods should strive to provide insightful, statistically sound data that can be applied to the purpose of the assessment.

83. For most studies, a variety of water quality variables should be measured. These can include temperature, electrical conductivity (EC, a measure of the total dissolved salts), pH (an measure of the water's acidity or alkalinity), chlorophyll A, total phosphorous, total nitrogen, dissolved oxygen, and water transparency (Secchi depth). These variables can be measured with individual instruments or with one combination instrument that includes several types of probes.

84. Macrophytes can be searched visually from above or under the water surface (scuba) or by means of special samplers. Fishes can be sampled using a wide variety of methods (see Appendix 2), keeping in mind the applicable legislation. Asking local fishermen and examining their catches can be a helpful method as well. Aquatic invertebrates can be sampled from the water column (plankton), from emergent, floating-leaved, and submerged vegetation (epiphytic fauna), and from the bottom sediments (benthic invertebrates) by appropriate sampling technique. Reptiles and amphibians are generally sampled using nets, traps or by visual search during day and night.

85. Appendix 2 lists a wide range of sampling methods for different wetland features and taxa which can be used in rapid assessments. Some other useful general reference sources for sampling methods include: Merritt et al (1996); James & Edison (1979); Platts et al (1983); Nielsen & Johnston (1996); and Sutherland (2000). Useful websites for reference include: the United States Environmental Protection Agency (, the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (, the World Biodiversity Database provided by the Expert Center for Taxonomic Identification (ETI) (, and the Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network (Canada;

86. In the context of rapid assessment, data used should be of the appropriate type and quality for their intended use. If more resources are available in time, money and expertise, the possibilities of obtaining reliable data and sound statistical results are higher. In addition, it is important to gather pre-existing information on the site, the species, the habitats to gain better insight on the types of data, sampling designs and analyses needed in the assessment.

87. The following seven questions should be addressed in collecting data

a) What are the types of data? The variables of concern are determined by the purpose of the assessment. They can be qualitative such as lists, classes or categories used for example in inventories and ecological description or they can be quantitative, numerically based, such as counts and measurements used for example in population densities, abundances, etc. The variables needed to be collected to calculate specific metrics are well documented (see e.g. Barbour et al 1999);

b) How to collect data? There are two types of sampling designs: probability sampling based on randomness and targeted design that focuses on site-specific problems. Probability sampling design allows making inference about an entire region based on estimates on the sample sites. Simple random sampling defines the population and then randomly selects from the entire population. When there is variability associated with groups or habitats, stratified random sampling can lower the error associated with population estimates. Cluster sampling is designed for very large populations, first grouping sampling units into clusters which are often based on geographic proximity, then clusters are randomly selected and data are only collected from sampling units within these clusters. The use of GIS reduces the effort and time in randomly selecting the assessment sites. Finally, sampling should follow protocols such as those established for sampling fish, macroinvertebrates and periphyton. The Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network hosted by Environment Canada provides detailed information on monitoring protocols for various taxa (

c) How much data to collect? The sample size depends on factors such as the resources available, the geographic and temporal scope of the assessment, and the confidence levels. The number and type of sites should provide an adequate sampling for quantitative or qualitative analysis. In general, the greater the number of sites sampled, the greater coverage of the area. Choosing fewer sites allows for more in-depth survey at each site. For some assessments, an increased number of sampling sites may be beneficial, where as others may warrant more time spent at each site for more intense sampling. The choice is not "either/or", and consideration should be given to reach the best compromise between coverage and intensity. Replicates are needed to account for variance associated with measurement error in an assessment;

d) How to enter data? Using bioinformatics (software, database applications, etc.) to manage data is very reliable and useful. The application can be developed to serve the specific needs of the assessment. Field data sheets or forms can be printed out and filled on site. Biodiversity informatics allows for more efficient analysis, dissemination and integration of the results with other databases. Examples of field data sheets for inland wetlands are provided by the EPA program on Rapid Bioassessment Protocols For Use in Streams and Wadeable Rivers (;

e) How to analyse data? Depending on the data collected and the purpose of the assessment, methods used for analyses could be simple descriptive, univariate, EDA (exploratory data analysis), or multivariate (clustering, similarity analysis, ordination, MANOVA). Two approaches have been used: multimetrics used by most water resource agencies in the United States or multivariate used by several water resource agencies in Europe and Australia (for further details on measurements of ecological diversity see Magurran 1988); and

f) How to integrate data and report on it? It is important to integrate data from one assemblage to those of other assemblages to complement the assessment at a larger spatial and temporal scale and to provide more complete assessment of biological diversity. Assessment reports should contain the scientific information, results and recommendations for further action to guide authorities, scientists, but also to reach a broader, non-scientific audience by adding graphical displays, and presentation on multimedia tools. Finally, depending on the ownership of the information, the database collection and the results should be disseminated through the internet and relevant networks of biological information to serve the needs of diverse user groups.

10. References

Barbour, M.T., J. Gerritsen, B.D. Snyder, and J.B. Stribling. 1999. Rapid Bioassessment Protocols for Use in Streams and Wadeable Rivers: Periphyton, Benthic Macroinvertebrates and Fish, Second Edition. EPA 841-B-99-002. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Office of Water; Washington, D.C.

DePauw, N. and Vanhooren, G. 1983. Methods for biological quality assessment of water courses in Belgium. Hydrolobiologia, 100, 153-168.

Fausch, K.D., J.R. Karr, and P.R. Yant. 1984. Regional application of an index of biotic integrity based on stream fish communities. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. 113: 39-55.

Goldstein, R.M., T.P. Simon, P.A. Bailey, M. Ell, E. Pearson, K. Schmidt, and J.W. Enblom. 2002. Concepts for an index of biotic integrity for streams of the Red River for the North Basin.

Karr, J.R. 1981. Assessment of biotic integrity using fish communities. Fisheries (Bethesda). 6(6): 21-27.

Magurran, A.E. 1988. Ecological diversity and its measurement. Princeton University Press, New Jersey, USA.

Nixon, S.C., Mainstone, C.P., Moth Iverson T., Kristensen P., Jeppesen, E., Friberg, N. Papathanassiou, E., Jensen, A. and Pedersen F. 1996. The harmonised monitoring and classification of ecological quality of surface waters in the European Union. Final Report. European Comission, Directorate General XI & WRc, Medmenham. 293 p.

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. 2002. NSW biodiversity surveys. (

Rosenberg, D.M. and V. H. Resh. eds. 1993. Freshwater Biomonitoring and Benthic Macroinvertebrates. Chapman and Hall, New York, USA

Troychak, M. (ed.). 1997. Streamkeepers- Aquatic Insects as Biomonitors. The Xerces Society, Portland, USA.

Merritt, R.W., K.W. Cummins, and V.H. Resh. 1996. Design of aquatic insect studies: collecting, sampling and rearing procedures, p. 12-28. In: R.W. Merritt and K.W. Cummins (eds.) An introduction to the aquatic insects of North America. 3rd ed. Kendall-Hunt, Dubuque, Iowa.

James, A. and L. Edison (eds). 1979. Biological Indicators of Water Quality. John Wiley Sons Ltd., New York.

Platts, S.D., W.F. Megahan, and G.W. Marshall. 1983. Methods for evaluating stream, riparian, and biotic conditions. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, General Technical Report INT-138, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Ogden, Utah (USA).

Nielsen, L.A. and D.L. Johnson (eds.). 1996. Fisheries Techniques. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland.

Sutherland, W.J. 2000. The conservation handbook. Research, management and policy. Blackwell Science Ltd., Oxford, 278 pp.

Appendix 1

Assessment analysis methods and indices

This Appendix provides a non-exhaustive and indicative list of analysis methods and indices relevant to different aspects of wetland rapid assessment, as well as reference sources to reviews or key papers for further information. For 'Application': IW = inland wetlands; MC = coastal/marine wetlands.

Reference sources

Barbour, M.T., J. Gerritsen, B.D. Snyder, and J.B. Stribling. 1999. Rapid Bioassessment Protocols for Use in Streams and Wadeable Rivers: Periphyton, Benthic Macroinvertebrates and Fish, Second Edition. EPA 841-B-99-002. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Office of Water; Washington, D.C. Available on:

Boon, P.J., Holmes, N.T.H., Maitland, P.S. & Fozzard, I.R. 2002. Developing a new version of SERCON (System for Evaluating Rivers for Conservation). Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 12: 439-455

De Pauw N. & Hawkes H.A.. 1993. Biological monitoring of river water quality. Proc. Freshwater Europe Symp. on River Water Quality Monitoring and Control. Aston University, Birmingham. p. 87-111.

De Pauw N. & Heylen S.. 2001. Biotic index for sediment quality assessment of watercourses in Flanders, Belgium. Aquatic Ecology 35: 121-133.

Groves, C. R., Jensen, D.B., Valutis, L.L., Redford, K.H., Shaffer, M.L., Scott, J.M., Baumgartner, J.V., Higgins, J.V., Beck, M.W., and M.G. Anderson. 2002. Planning for biodiversity conservation: putting conservationscience into practice. BioScience 52(6):499-512.

Hellawell J.M.. 1986. Biological indicators of freshwater pollution and environmental management. Pollution Monitoring Series. Elsevier Applied Science. 546 p.

Karr, J.R. 1981. Assessment of biotic integrity using fish communities. Fisheries (Bethesda). 6(6): 21-27.

Metcalfe J.L.. 1989. Biological Water Quality Assessment of running Waters Based on Macroinvertebrate Communities: History and Present Status in Europe. Environmental Pollution 60 (1989): 101-139.

Nixon S.C., Mainstone C.P., Moth Iversen T., Kristensen P., Jeppesen E., Friberg N., Papathanassiou E., Jensen A. & Pedersen F.. 1996. The harmonised monitoring and classification of ecological quality of surface waters in the European Union. Final Report. European Commission, Directorate General XI & WRc, Medmenham. 293 p.

Parsons, M., Thoms, M. & Norris, R. 2002. Australian River Assessment System: Review of Physical River Assessment Methods - A Biological Perspective. Monitoring River Health Initiative Technical Report Number 21. Environment Australia available on:

Persoone G. & De Pauw N.. 1979. Systems of Biological Indicators for Water Quality Assessment. In: Ravera O. Biological Aspects of Freshwater Pollution. Commission of the European Communities. Pergamon Press.

Prati L., Pavanello R. & Pesarin F.. 1971. Assessment of surface water quality by a single index of pollution. Water Research 5: 741-751.

Raven P.J., Holmes N.T.H., Dawson F.H., Fox P.J.A., Everard M., Fozzard I.R. & Rouen K.J.. 1998. River Habitat Quality - the physical character of rivers and streams in the UK and Isle of Man. River Habitat Survey, Report No. 2. Environment Agency, Scottish Environment Protection & Environment and Heritage Service. 86 p.

Schofield, N.J. & Davies, P.E. 1996. Measuring the health of our rivers. Water (May/June 1996): 39-43.

Ten Brink B.J.E., Hosper S.H. & Colijn F. 1991. A Quantitative Method for Description & Assessment of Ecosystems: the AMOEBA-approach. Marine Pollution Bulletin. Vol. 23: 265-270.

Washington, H.G. 1984. Diversity, biotic and similarity indices. A review with special relevance to aquatic ecosystems. Water Research 18: 653-694

Appendix 2

Sampling methods for wetland habitats, features and different wetland-dependent taxa

Appendix 2, PDF format


Allison, E., R. G. T. Paley, and V. Cowan (eds.) 2000. Standard operating procedures for BIOSS field sampling, data handling and analysis. 80pp.

Bagenal T. 1978. Methods for Assessment of Fish Production in Fresh Waters. 3rd Ed. Blackwell Scientific Publications. Oxford. 365pp.

Darwall, W. & P. Tierney. 1998. Survey of aquatic habitats and associated biodiversity adjacent to the Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania. 51pp.

Downing, J. A. & Rigler F. H. (red.) 1984. A manual of methods for the assessment of secondary productivity in fresh waters. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford.

English, S. Wilkinson, C. and Baker, V. (1997). Survey Manual for Tropical Marine Resources. 2nd edition. Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville, 402pp.

Kornijów, R. 1998. Quantitative sampler for collecting invertebrates associated with submersed and floating-leaved macrophytes. Aquatic Ecology, 32: 241-244.

Kornijów R. & Kairesalo T. 1994. A Simple Apparatus for Sampling Epiphytic Communities Associated with Emergent Macrophytes. Hydrobiologia 294: 141-143.

Limpus CJ, Limpus DJ & Hamann M. 2002. Freshwater turtle population in the area to be flooded by the Walla Weir, Burnett River, Queensland: Baseline study. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 48(1):155-168.

Moss B., Stephen D., Alvarez C., Becares E., van de Bund W., van Donk E., de Eyto E., Feldmann T., Fernández-Aláez F., Fernández-Aláez M, Franken R.J.M., García-Criado F, Gross E, Gyllstrom M, Hansson L-A., Irvine K., Järvalt A., Jenssen J-P, Jeppesen E, Kairesalo T., Kornijów R, Krause T, Künnap H., Laas A, Lill E., Lorens B., Luup H, Miracle M.R., Nõges P., Nõges T., Nykannen M., Ott I., Peeters E.T.H.M., Peczula W., Phillips G., Romo S., Salujõe J., Scheffer M., Siewertsen K., Smal H., Tesch C, Timm H, Tuvikene L., Tonno I., Vakilainnen K., Virro T. 2003. The determination of ecological quality in shallow lakes - a tested expert system (ECOFRAME) for implementation of the European Water Framework Directive. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 13: 507-549.

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (2002) Community Biodiversity Survey Manual (available on: /Community+Biodiversity+Survey+Manual)

Strickland, J.D.H. and T.R. Parsons. 1972. A practical handbook of sea-water analysis. 2nd edition. J. Fish. Res. Bd. Canada. 167: 311 pp.

Wetzel R.G. & Likens G.E. 1991. Limnological analyses. 2nd Ed. Springer-Verlag. New York. 391 pp.

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