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This web page is offers all the documentation and tools for cost-effective monitoring of protected areas systems and ecosystems, including the comprehensive Ecosystem and Protected Areas Monitoring Database, as well as the Protected Areas Management effectiveness database, a tool for management effectiveness assessments.The files for these tools can be downloaded from the Download Page. Before you download, read this pages carefully. 

The database was originally designed in the period 1999 – 2001 in the context of the Central American Ecosystems Map carried out under the World Bank - Dutch Partnership Agreement. The map was the result of a team effort (Vreugdenhil et al. 2002a[1]) by the biodiversity and environmental conservation institutions of the Central American countries and their coordinating institution, the Comisión Centroamericana de Ambiente y Desarrollo (CCAD, and reflects the culmination of decades of research by ecologists and taxonomists from across the region, many of whom have been associated with national universities for decades. Given the variety of elevations and the climatic barrier function of the mountain chains over relatively very small areas, Central America is characterized by a great variety of ecological conditions, varying form the cold highlands at both ends of the region to wet tropical lowland rainforests at the Atlantic coast and semi-desert conditions in some locations along the Pacific Coast. For the production of the map, a database was needed to store the field[2] data in an orderly fashion and allow scientists to relate data to locations on the map. 

Any ecosystem classification system is arbitrary in the sense that it introduces artificial separations in only gradually changing landscapes by subdividing modifiers in subdivisions agreed by convention and which can often not be located in the field with precision. Polygons reflect all the biases of its authors, as well as all the imperfections and errors inherent to any map and to any classification system (Muchoney et al. 1998, Touber et al. 1989). To compensate for such imperfections, sound  field data need to be collected on physical and biological parameters and species, representing consistent sampling and stored in a logically organised database. The mapping project for Central America dedicated great effort to deciding which field information to collect. It started out with the "STEP" design of the University of Boston (Muchoney et al. 1998), which was eventually transformed into the current completely new database. It not only serves to support ecosystem maps for any region in the world, but it has been expanded for monitoring species, ecological and human use parameters (including indicator species) of protected areas or natural areas and ecosystems in general. It has been intensely used in the field by more than 25 senior scientists. For its design, renowned external international scientists were consulted (Professor R.A.A. Oldeman, Ph.D., University of Wageningen; Professor A. M. Cleef, Ph.D., University of Amsterdam and Wageningen; Dr. H. van Gils, ITC, Enschede and M. Kappelle, PhD, University of Utrecht, Prof. Dr. H, H. T. Prins, Wageningen University), Dr. Patrick Drohan.

The Central American Ecosystems Map has been based on the “ Tentative Physiognomic-Ecological Classification of Plant Formations of the Earth” as developed by Mueler-Dombois and Ellenberg (1974[3]) under the auspices of the UNESCO. The selection of this classification system has been based on an analysis by the scientists and has later been corroborated in detail by Vreugdenhil et al. (2002 and 2003), but some additions needed to be made, most notoriously an expansion for water classes and the potential to create floristic extensions, in following of the United States National Classification  System (USNVC). A further revision and updating of the map was done in 2003 in Guatemala during a workshop of a delegation of the scientists. The database can be used in combination with all major vegetation or ecosystem classification systems.

The Ecosystem and Protected Areas Monitoring Database foresees in storage of detailed tracking data, physical data registration that allow characterisation varying from aquatic to desert ecosystems, physiognomic and floristic characterisation as well as detailed soil characterisation and water composition, and contains the following primary thematic forms:

Form I: 

Full ecosystem data 

Form II: 

Fast ecosystem data 

Form III: 


Form IV: 

Aquatic data 

Form V: 

Soil data 

Form VI: 

Human Activities 

Form VII: 

Monitored or Indicator species

Form VIII: 


Form IX: 

Tracking data 

Form X: 

Observer data 

Form XI: 

Weather data 

The data set thus facilitates efficient characterisation of any ecosystem type, terrestrial or aquatic anywhere on earth.  Further, the database has been designed to store data relevant for monitoring the state of conservation of management areas as well as general environmental monitoring purposes, while the design allows expansion for almost any data set as required by the user. Although the objective was to link field observations to the Central America Ecosystems Map, it has been designed to function with ecosystem maps anywhere on earth. To this purpose, experienced biologists from a variety of regions of the world has been consulted. This way from the onset the database has been designed so that other countries can benefit from this invaluable experience in Central America. The use of the database and accompanying documentation are independent of the method applied.  It works well with the Braun-Blanquet system (Braun Blaquet 1921[4]), the UNESCO system, the USNVC (Grossman et al. 1998[5]) system the FAO/UNEP (di Gregorio and Jansen, 2000[6]) Land Cover Classification System (LCCS) and quantitative data registration methods of other ecological schools of thought. Additional parameters (such as indicator species) can be added according to the needs of individual user.

The objective of the manual is to provide ecological principles and methods for systematic data collection in the field in such a way that they can be stored in the Ecosystems Protected Areas Monitoring Database, and serve as a manual on the use of the database. For thorough understanding of the monitoring concepts, we recommand that you also download and read Comprehensive Protected Areas System Composition and Monitoring, which elaborates important considerations on why and how to monitor what.

Glosario de Términos de Biodiversidad

Glosario de términos Es un dictionario de casi 6000 términos en línea escrito por Dr. Maarten Kappelle (2004) con financiamiento de la Cooperación Español y publicado en línea por INBio de Costa Rica. (Spanish only) 

Field Forms

The field forms have been designed to match the visual forms in the database. No forms are needed for forms VIII - XI in the database.

The forms have been designed in such a way that they can be made at the two faces of a pages. We did this to avoid multiple pages, which particularly under field conditions can easily be mixes up. Such accident may make thousands of dollars worth of field work useless. The taxa forms have been designed to monitor species. For monitoring a specific selection of indicator species, it is more convenient to use Form VII.

There are special formats for Taxa "fauna" and Taxa "flora, which we did to free up some space. In those forms, the ecological information is collected from the point of view of species, rather than from ecosystems.

The Principles of biodiversity and protected Areas Monitoring

We currently have a draft document on the entire suite of data required for the management of protected areas systems, developed for the Inter American Biological Network, IABIN, a technical platform for the American Nations under the Organization of American States (OAS)

We wrote a document on the principles of Monitoring and Evaluation for the protected areas system in Honduras. While the case is country specific, the principles are basically world wide. We believe it is convenient to read a country specific document so that the material is very concrete and realistic. 


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[1] Map Of The Ecosystems Of Central America, Final Report, Volume I, (Vreugdenhil, D., Meerman, J., Meyrat, A.K., Gómez, L.D., Graham, D. J. 2002,  ;

[2] The word “field” may be confusing as it can refer to the place where observations are made and to a cell in a database where information is stored. To avoid confusion we shall use the term “db-field” for the latter case.

[3] Mueller-Dombois, D. and Ellenberg, H., 1974, Aims and methods in vegetation ecology, J. Willey & sons, New York, USA.

[4] Braun Blanquet, J., 1928,. Pflanzensoziologie, Grund-züge der Vegetationskunde. Springer-Verlag, Ber-lin, Germany.

[5] Grossman D.H.D., Faber-Langendoen, A.S. Weakley, M. Anderson, P. Bourgeron, R. Crawford, K. Goodin, S. Landaal, K.,Metzler, K. Patterson, M. Pyne, M. Reid, M. and Sneddon, L., International classification of Ecological communities: terrestrial vegetation of the United States, the National Vegetation Classification System: development, status, and applications, The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, Virginia, USA. 123 pp. Volume 1, 1998.

[6] Gregorio, A. di, Jansen, L.J.M., Land Cover Classification System, LCCS, FAO, 2000.

[7] Cifuentes, M.A. and Izurieta, A., Evaluation of Protected Area Management Effectiveness: Analysis of Procedures and Outline for a Manual, Paper for the IUCN Management Effectiveness Task Force Meeting 1999.

[8] Courrau, J., Strategy for Monitoring the Man-agement of Protected Areas in Central America, CCAD/USAID/PROARCA/CAPAS. 1999.


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