The United States Biosphere Reserve network was begun in 1974, and currently numbers 38 sites. An investigation into the status of scientific activities in US Biosphere Reserves was conducted in 1981 to determine how well the network was meeting the multiple objectives of the Man and the Biosphere Programme. A survey questionnaire was administered to all US Biosphere Reserves, covering the adequacy of available data-bases, the types of research conducted, the perceived anthropogenic threats, funding, support, facilities, and educational programmes. Based on predominant management emphasis, Biosphere Reserves were designated as experimental or observational (i.e. conservational) for the purpose of analysis of the data.
The results of our survey indicate that baseline scientific data, such as aerial photography, bibliographies, weather data, flora and fauna checklists and keys, and topographic maps, are generally available for most of the US Biosphere Reserves; environmental monitoring activities are more comprehensive than ecological research activities, but topic emphasis varies with the management's orientation of the Reserves. Experimentally-oriented Reserves tend to emphasize biological productivity, succession, silviculture, and forest restoration and management, while observationally-oriented Reserves tend towards descriptive studies.
In almost all scientific activities, experimental Reserves were scored higher than observational (‘conservation’) Reserves in terms of general value; they have also received significantly more funding for scientific research. In all Reserves, most natural resources are considered to be effectively protected. Observational Reserves report a greater number of anthropogenic threats, including air and water pollution, exotic species, operations problems, resource removal, and visitor impacts; but they are addressing a greater proportion of these threats than are experimental Reserves. Most Reserves communicate natural history and other scientific information to the public, but many do not discuss MAB or its goals. Almost all the 38 US Biosphere Reserves are used for professional training and have basic support-facilities for field-work.
Recommendations made for improving the effectiveness of US Biosphere Reserves include: strengthening communications among Reserves within the network; initiating more cooperative studies at all geographic levels; intensifying scientific research in observational (‘conservation’) Reserves; improving the status of ecological research on aquatic systems and soils, and at the ecosystem level in all Reserves; also designing studies which focus on Man as an integral part of the system and how Mankind might exist in improved concert with The Biosphere. The designation of a multiple-site Biosphere Reserve bearing the name of the biogeographic region in which it occurs, is now being used both to conserve a region's representative ecosystems and to foster cooperation among sites. We believe this is a workable approach and an important first step in implementing these recommendations regionally and, so far as they prove practicable, ultimately globally.