How Can Managers Respond to Changing Ecosystems? New BioScience Special Section Provides In-Depth Exposition of the Resist-Accept-Direct Framework

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A new Special Section in the journal BioScience provides an in-depth exposition of the Resist-Accept-Direct framework, a new approach to guide natural resource decision making. Articles in the Special Section explore the practical application of the framework, compatibility of existing tools, social barriers and opportunities, and future science needs. 

A woman stands shovels mud in a drainage ditch running alongside the Colorado River, with a dam in distance

Maintenance of aquatic habitats created for refugial populations of the imperiled relict Leopard frog (Lithobates onca), previously distributed throughout springs, creeks, and seeps in drainages of the lower Colorado River watershed, is necessary. (Credit: USFWS. Public domain.)

Natural resource managers worldwide face a growing challenge: global change increasingly propels ecosystems on strong trajectories toward irreversible ecological transformations. As once-familiar historical ecological conditions fade, managers need new approaches to guide decision making. The Resist–Accept–Direct (RAD) framework, designed for and by managers, identifies the options managers have for responding and helps them make informed, purposeful, and strategic choices in this context. Articles in the new BioScience Special Section focus on understanding and responding to the challenges of stewarding ecological systems in a time of intensifying global change.  

The Special Section was developed by over three dozen authors from several federal agencies and beyond, under the leadership of the National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey. USGS scientists from the Climate Adaptation Science Centers, Fort Collins Science Center, Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, Cooperative Research Units, and Pacific Islands Ecosystems Research Center contributed to papers. Find a brief summary of each paper below: 

Navigating Ecological Transformation: Resist-Accept-Direct (RAD) as a Path to a New Resource Management Paradigm: This paper provides an overview of the RAD framework, a simple tool that encompasses the entire decision space for stewarding ecosystems facing the potential for rapid, irreversible ecological change. It helps managers make strategic, forwarding-looking decisions about how to respond to the trajectory of change and provides a straightforward approach to support resource managers in collaborating at larger scales across jurisdictions, which today is more urgent than ever. View paper 

Management Foundations for Navigating Ecological Transformation by Resisting, Accepting, or Directing Social-Ecological Change: This paper presents four “foundations” that can support management planning for natural resources undergoing transformative change.  The management foundations described in this paper are practices that facilitate application of the RAD framework. Foundations encourage (1) building a shared knowledge about plausible ecological trajectories, (2) participation in upstream and deliberative engagement to define desired conditions, (3) development of management pathways to communicate RAD options, and (4) creation of adaptation portfolios to contextualize and strategically coordinate local management choices within larger Continental or regional efforts. View paper 

RAD Adaptive Management for Transforming Ecosystems: Through a case study from the Mojave Desert, this paper explores how to operationalize the RAD framework. Placing adaptive management within the RAD framework can help navigate the unfamiliar terrain of stewarding transforming ecosystems with familiar techniques. This approach encourages decision makers to revisit objectives, reassess ecological conditions and trajectories, and reconsider RAD strategies as an iterative process. View paper 

Responding to Ecological Transformation: Mental Models, External Constraints, and Manager Decision-Making: This paper explores the social barriers and opportunities around the RAD framework. Managers’ choices about whether to resist, accept, or direct change are influenced by the interaction of a manager’s mental model (i.e., the set of perspectives that an individual holds about the environment and applies to questions of natural resource management) and the external constraints they face, including social feasibility, institutional context, and degree of scientific uncertainty. View paper 

A Science Agenda to Inform Natural Resource Management Decisions in an Era of Ecological Transformation: Application of the RAD framework calls for an ecological and social science agenda centered on the questions encountered in a RAD decision-making process. In this paper, researchers describe an agenda for the transformation science that aligns with the RAD framework and is based on five central questions: (1) is transformation a threat, (2) how effective and durable are resistance strategies, (3) what are the plausible ecological futures, (4) what are the consequences of the choice to resist, accept, or direct change, and (5) how do managers and society choose among options to resist, accept, or direct change. Science focused on these questions can best support the full breadth of potential decisions in the RAD framework. View paper 

View the BioScience Special Section

More information about the RAD framework can be found on the NPS and USGS websites. 

Image: Dying Piñon Pine

A massive forest die-off is projected to occur more frequently in the Southwest. Piñon pines, normally evergreen, have reddish-brown foliage in October 2002 (left). By May 2004 (right), the dead piñon pines have lost all their needles, exposing gray trunks and branches. The photos were taken from the same vantage point near Los Alamos, N.M. Forest drought stress is strongly correlated with tree mortality from poor growth, bark beetle outbreaks, and high-severity fire.

(Credit: Craig Allen, USGS. Public domain.)