Data Collection

Field Season Preparation

When it comes time to collect the data, it is important to be fully prepared for the field. This includes having all of your equipment prepared (Step 1), data collection software downloaded and tested (Step  1a and b), crews trained and a full understanding of the AIM Core Methods and indicators. The type of equipment and trainings you will need depends on whether you intend to collect aquatic data, terrestrial data or both.

Equipment Preparation:    

  1. Tablets and Accessories for Electronic Data Capture:  One of the most important pieces of equipment that you will use is your tablet!
    1. Terrestrial AIM data is collected using the Database for Inventory, Monitoring and Assessment (DIMA) of Windows-run tablets. See the Master Equipment list for more details on tablet information.
    2. Aquatics AIM data is collected using the Stream And River Assessment Hub (SARAH) on Mac systems.
  2. Database for Inventory Monitoring and Assessment (DIMA): The Database for Inventory, Monitoring and Assessment (DIMA) is a highly customizable software tool for data collection, management, and interpretation. DIMA is a free Microsoft Access database that can easily be used without extensive knowledge of Access. Data can be entered for common, nationally accepted vegetation and soil monitoring methods in either English or metric units.  However, AIM data collected using the core methods should be collected using metric units – this is a requirement for data ingestion. You can download DIMA here. For additional DIMA support please visit the following links:
  3. Aquatic Data Collection with the Stream And River Assessment Hub (SARAH): SARAH is undergoing revisions over the winter of 2015-2016.  If you are planning on collecting aquatic data in 2016, please contact the National Aquatic Monitoring Center to be notified of the latest SARAH release.
  4. Field Equipment: To begin collecting terrestrial data you will need to obtain all of the necessary monitoring equipment found in the Master Equipment List. It can be helpful to have more than one of each item (though not required!) in the event that something is lost or broken in the field. The equipment found on the Master Equipment List is necessary to collect data for all of the core terrestrial methods. If you are planning on collecting data from supplemental indicators, you will likely need additional equipment.


Good training for the data collectors is essential for gathering high-quality information.  Calibration, or having multiple data collectors gather the same information at a site and then comparing the results, is also an essential activity for ensuring data are collected the same way.

Recognizing the importance of training, BLM requires field crew to attend approved AIM protocol trainings for data to be ingested into the national AIM databases. Project managers should ensure that field crews receive proper training in the core methods.  

Additional in-house training may be necessary for your field crew (first aid, UTV, four wheel driving, etc.). Some of this training will likely be available through local field offices but if not, make sure that you communicate your additional training expectations and needs to any crew-hiring partners during the agreement phase.

Terrestrial Protocol Trainings

Please visit the Landscape Toolbox to find information on upcoming terrestrial training opportunities, archives of past trainings, training materials, and links to other resources.  For integration into TerrADat, the minimum requirement is that the project lead has attended an AIM training in the last three years.  However, the recommendation is that as many of your crew attend training as often as possible.

Other Training Opportunities

There are four types of terrestrial trainings available available to support AIM implementation :

  1. Webinars and Online Resources – These resources for AIM project leads and data collectors can help clarify some of the potentially more confusing aspects of AIM. Each Webinar takes approximately one hour to complete and covers information like data QA/QC, DIMA, sample design and more. If you would like to see a webinar on a topic that has not yet been addressed, please contact the AIM team with your request.
  2. Train the Trainer – This training is directed towards state and regional field methods instructors. We intend to give specialists in different regions the skills that they need to be able to host locally adapted crew trainings. As the number of AIM projects increase, so too do the number of field technicians required to collect data. It will be crucial to have people from different regions qualified to host crew trainings (in conjunction with the NOC and the Jornada).
  3. Regional Core Methods Field Courses – This annual field course is designed to give field crews and AIM data collectors training in the Core Methods used to gather data in the field as well as background in the conceptual framework for those methods and the design of AIM projects.
  4. Workshops and Meetings – there are various workshops and meetings scheduled throughout the year for all of levels of involvement in AIM for BLM resource staff regarding AIM implementation and use of data.

Field Sampling

An indicator is a component of an ecosystem whose characteristics can be used as an index of an attribute that is too difficult, inconvenient, or expensive to measure directly. Indicators are measurable aspects of an ecosystem that tell you about the status of one or more of the three ecosystem attributes. For example, the amount of bare ground on a site and its arrangement can be an indicator of potential for soil erosion and soil nutrient loss, decreased water infiltration, and species invasion. Other indicators to consider when describing soil and site stability might be the presence and amount of compaction and the extent of water flow patterns.

Core indicators are classes of indicators that are informative of many aspects of range health and are useful for answering many other resource management questions.

Supplemental Indicators: if there is an indicator that is important for understanding the ecosystem function and processes in your region, then you should also measure this indicator. For example, in the Colorado Plateau, biological crusts may be a useful supplemental indicator to help evaluate soil and site stability and biotic integrity. If you choose to add a supplemental indicator, it is advisable to follow as many principles of the core indicators as possible. For instance, the quantitative terrestrial core indicators are bare ground, species composition, non-native invasive species, plant species of management concern, vegetation height, and canopy gaps.

Core Methods: a method is a technique for measuring an indicator. There may be more than one method for measuring an indicator (Figure 6). It is important when selecting methods that you understand how the method defines the characteristic being measured, and how it is measuring that characteristic. The Monitoring Manual for Grassland Shrubland and Savanna Ecosystems  fully describes the core methods that should be utilized when monitoring the Core Indicators.


Figure 1. Core and Supplemental Indicators

Data collection advice from other project leads:

  • The BLM project coordinator must occasionally accompany the field crew into the field to provide quality assurance.
  • The AIM training is critical for getting quality data and improving efficiency
  • The BLM project coordinator must spend time with the crew planning for logistical considerations such as private property access and poor road conditions.
  • Crews should have tablets before the training so they can be familiar with them when they get to the training
  • The BLM project coordinator must be prepared to execute a safety plan, including a check in / check out procedure with contingencies.
  • The desire to sample points in order must be balanced with cost.
  • Crews should not upload a new USDA plant list every year in order to save the modified attributes

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